Updated at 11.35am

Twenty-four new complaints were submitted to the Church body tasked with investigating cases of abuse and neglect, according to its annual report.

The Commission for Safeguarding this morning announced that it had received 12 new complaints involving minors and another 12 involving vulnerable adults. It did not specify the details of the complaints.

It also revealed that the commission had seven ongoing complaints involving minors, which had been carried over from 2015 and another five involving adults.

Last year, the commission filed court applications for 335 people. All were filed under the Protection of Minors Act (2012). 

The Safeguarding Commission was set up in 2015 taking over from its Response Team. It is tasked with assessing whether a person working for the Church was a risk to children or vulnerable adults.

Photo: Jonathan BorgPhoto: Jonathan Borg

Headed by Andrew Azzopardi, who had previously headed the Football Association in England’s safeguarding investigations team, the commission can also recommend the temporary suspension of a worker or volunteer.

The report said that one diocesan priest was restricted from pastoral activity, as the commission concluded a detailed risk assessment.

The commission said it had concluded seven assessments concerning minors and another seven concerning vulnerable adults in 2016.

There were 12 ongoing assessments of minors and another 10 of vulnerable adults.

In all the assessments (ongoing and completed) the commission recommends necessary immediate action to safeguard those involved.

In terms of face-to-face safeguarding, the commission said it had worked with over 600 Church personnel (teachers, catechists, priests, seminarians and volunteers) in 2016.

Later this year it will be launching a standalone safeguarding workshop which will target staff and volunteers working with children and vulnerable adults.

“The aim is to increase awareness about abuse of children and vulnerable adults, what can be done to prevent it and what one should do when they are concerned about a child or vulnerable adult,” the report reads.

Attendance workshop is expected to be compulsory for all people working with children and vulnerable adults.

According to the annual report, the commission employs a “victims-first approach”.

“We are deeply conscious about the harm all forms of abuse inflict on children and vulnerable adults. Victims and survivors of abuse have not only taught us about the physical, emotional and spiritual suffering, but also about resilience and hope they experienced,” the report reads.

In 2016, the Commission made a number of recommendations to the government to improve the sharing of information in cases of abuse.

Addressing the press, Mr Azzopardi said not all cases involving minors were of sexual abuse.

"We have complaints of varying gravity and we treat these accordingly," he said.

The total number of complaints, he said, had actually decreased over 2015 but this did not mean the problem was getting smaller.

"Complacency is the biggest obstacle of safeguarding. Why wait for a scandal to come out to take the necessary steps? We know that this is a problem that is spread across the world," he said, adding that it was a problem of society not of the church.

The imbalance of power between adults and minors posed a potential risk, he said.

This was why preventative policies which minimised risk were a must.

Mr Azzopardi also praised the police vice squad, saying he had experienced police forces overseas and the local team was "second to none".

People with information or who had something to say may contact the commission at info@safeguarding.com.mt, tel: 2590 6315.