I am a delegate of the Bishops and Major Superiors (Ecclesiastical Authority) of Malta and Gozo to conduct, together with a Response Team, a preliminary inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse by pastoral functionaries. “When the preliminary inquiry is completed, the delegate shall provide a written report with the recommendations of the Response Team to the Ecclesiastical Authority” (Procedures in Cases of Sexual Abuse, 1999, para 13). For practical purposes I shall refer below to the delegate and Response Team as “Response Team”.

“The purpose of such an inquiry is to obtain information determin­ing whether or not there are reasonable or probable grounds to believe that there has been a situation of child sexual abuse” (ibid para 1.1). Thus, the Response Team does not decide whether an alleged perpetrator is guilty or otherwise of the alleged abuse. The following is an extract from a typical conclusion of the Response Team in its inquiries: “... fit-termini tal-paragrafu 1.1 tal-Procedures, jirriżulta/ma jirriżultax li ...” (... in terms of paragraph 1.1 of the Procedures, it results/does not result that ...).

Nonetheless, in every report the Response Team gives the Authority a clear account of the facts and circumstances. In order to be able to do so, the Response Team seeks to interview everyone who can provide it with even the slightest relevant information.

Given certain circumstances, the Response Team, even before concluding the investigation, and without implying the guilt or innocence of the accused, may advise the Authority “to remove the accused from a position of access to minors” (ibid para 11). Such advice was given in a number of cases.

The Response Team goes to great lengths and can wait patiently in order to obtain thorough information on the matter under investigation. In each of three or four cases one witness testified that he had been abused by the accused person, adding that he knew of others who had also been abused by the same person. The witness refused to reveal the identity of these others but at the request of the Response Team he undertook to try to persuade them to come forward to testify. After waiting in vain to hear from the witness, or for the other alleged victims to present themselves, the Response Team delivered its report in each case to the Authority. Subsequently, the other alleged victims, hitherto unknown to the Response Team, came forward complaining that they had not been called to testify. So, the Response Team reviewed each case, heard the evidence of all the newcomers and made a second report to the Authority.

In one investigation of a reported abuse, the alleged victim insisted that he had not been abused at all.

The Response Team proceeds to investigate every allegation of which it becomes aware, even where it is not reported directly to it. Some allegations of sexual abuse were made solely in the media, such as in the editorial of MaltaToday of October 12, 2003, in the magazine First of August 2004, and in it-Torċa of September 30, 2007 and June 29, 2008.

I wrote to all the above asking them to let me have information that could enable the Response Team to investigate the facts they had alleged. None of them replied except for Saviour Balzan, editor of MaltaToday. Mr Balzan replied verbatim: “Assolutament m’iniex f’pożizzjoni biex ngħaddi informazz­joni lil persuna jew persuni li xogħolhom hu li żżomm il-ħwejjeġ fis-sigriet u l-bogħod mill-lenti tal-pubbliku” (I am absolutely not in a position to pass on information to a person or persons whose task is to keep matters secret and away from the public eye – translation by The Times). For lack of information, the Response Team obviously could not investigate.

As far as I know, not one of the above allegations made in the media was reported to the police. Hopefully, they were unfounded as, otherwise, it would have been tragic to let the perpetrators go unpunished and to allow them to carry on with their foul doings.

“The acts of the investigation ... are to be kept in the secret Curial archives...” (Can. 1719). This rule of Canon Law binds to confidentiality all who are officially concerned in the conduct or review of such investigations, whether they are members of the Response Team or otherwise. Even the fact that a person is being, or has been, investigated is confidential. In this regard, the right of the victims of abuse to maximum privacy is a very important factor. My steadfast refusal to give a newspaper reporter information about a particular allegation was once misuderstood to mean that the respective investigation had not been concluded (The Sunday Times editorial, September 5, 2010).

The task of the Response Team is far from pleasant. All its members perform it in order to contribute to the effort of the Maltese and Gozitan Churches to eradicate abuse by their pastoral functionaries. It is gratifying to know that the work of the Response Team is appreciated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In a letter dated June 21, 2010 (two months after Pope Benedict’s visit to Malta), its secretary, Archbishop Luis F. Ladaria, wrote to Archbishop Pawlu Cremona: “This Congregation is very grateful for the investigation which the Response Team of the Archdiocese of Malta is holding ... Allow me, Your Grace, to express my heartfelt gratitude for the sterling work done by the Archdiocese in the field of protection of minors ...” This letter was at the time published in the media.

Judge Caruana Colombo is chairman of the Church Response Team.