The Church could close the case over the four Maltese priests accused of paedophilia as early as August, according to one of the victims who yesterday recounted his case to Vatican official Mgr Charles Scicluna.

Mgr Scicluna, Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, yesterday began meeting the 11 Maltese men who allege they were abused by priests some 20 years ago in an orphanage in Sta Venera.

His aim is to gather direct information to supplement the work being done on the case by the Curia and he is hoping the full investigation would be concluded "expeditiously".

In several long one-on-one meetings yesterday, he is said to have listened compassionately to graphic details of abuse, with a notary present to compile the evidence.

Lawrence Grech, one of the victims, described his meeting as "amazing" and said he was confident that justice would finally be done.

"You can tell when you're speaking to someone professional... a good man. He felt the sorrow. It wasn't an interrogation. He spoke openly and helped us speak. He paid attention to certain details that not even the police had picked upon. And he was disgusted."

Mgr Scicluna, he said, urged the men to cooperate closely with the Curia in its investigation, being conducted by the Response Team set up to deal with abuse allegations against members of the clergy.

Mr Grech made the same appeal to the other victims and invited any old boys who might have experienced similar abuse to come forward and strengthen the case.

Mgr Scicluna spent two and a half hours talking to another abuse victim, Joseph Magro.

"I told him my story and he showed great interest. He was scandalised... shocked... like he had never read about our allegations before. But he assured me that action would be taken and, by August, the case should be closed," Mr Magro said shortly after the meeting.

He said the priest once believed to be on the run would be called in by Mgr Scicluna for questioning.

The Sunday Times revealed two weeks ago that Fr Conrad Sciberras, the fourth priest implicated in the scandal, had never fled to Italy as had widely been claimed but was simply never called in to be questioned.

"I feel he won't let the Church drag its feet any longer," Mr Magro said of Mgr Scicluna.

He was particularly impressed with the fact that Mgr Scicluna went to speak to him while he was in hospital, unlike the Curia team, which postponed its meeting with him until he was discharged, he said. "But he came all the way here to speak to me."

Mr Magro pointed out that, despite Mgr Scicluna's enthusiasm to see justice being done, the most the Church could do was defrock the priests if they found them guilty because criminal court action was already being taken against them.

Both Mr Grech and Mr Magro pointed out that this was an important step in the whole case.

Mgr Scicluna yesterday confirmed that the meetings had taken place but had no further comment.

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