Seven men who claim to have been sexually abused by clergy when they were children yesterday had a private meeting with Archbishop Paul Cremona but an appointment with Pope Benedict XVI remains unconfirmed.

The meeting, which lasted more than two hours, was described as "very emotional" and gave each of the alleged victims the opportunity to explain their experiences in detail.

Speaking to The Times outside the Archbishop's Attard residence, where the meeting was held, television presenter Lou Bondì, who spoke on behalf of the men, said Mgr Cremona "understood what they went through" and gave them time to explain themselves.

The Archbishop invited the men to future meetings, and urged them to take their families, who have also been affected by their experiences, Mr Bondi said.

The Curia's pro-vicar, Mgr Anton Gouder, was also present for the meeting.

Mgr Cremona was handed a letter by Lawrence Grech, the only one to waive anonymity, formally requesting a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. The Archbishop said he would pass the letter on to the Vatican.

During a press conference on Monday, the alleged victims called for a meeting with both Mgr Cremona and the Pope "to help them heal". In a statement, the Curia had said the Archbishop would "gladly accept to meet them without any prejudice to the proceedings" currently ongoing both in court and before the Church's Response Team.

Three priests - Fr Charles Pulis, Bro Joseph Bonnett and Fr Godwin Scerri - were charged in court with forms of abuse on minors. Three of the 10 men testifying against the clergy in the closed case that has been ongoing since 2003 have also appeared before the response team, but said they have not heard about the outcome of the investigation after seven years.

Contacted yesterday, retired Judge Victor Caruana Colombo, who acts as the Archbishop's special delegate on one of the Church's two response teams, said he was unable to speak about specific cases, but pointed out that, while there were cases which were finalised in a month, others took much longer.

During a press briefing yesterday, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said that although he would not rule out that the Pope might meet the victims, there was no such encounter on the agenda and the Pontiff had a "very tight schedule" in Malta.

The Pope has held unscheduled meetings with victims of clergy abuse during visits to Australia and the US last year. However, the trips were longer than the 26-hour stop he will be making in Malta this weekend.

Yesterday, Fr Lombardi said the Pontiff did not want to meet victims "under media pressure, with little opportunity to listen", adding that such meetings had "always taken place in an atmosphere of contemplation and discretion". During a radio interview last week, Fr Lombardi, speaking generally, said "the Pope has written that he is available for new meetings" with victims.

The men, who spent some years living at St Joseph's Home, in Santa Venera, where the alleged abuse happened, have also called for a meeting with Mgr Charles Scicluna, one of the most senior figures in the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which also deals with allegations of abuse by clergy.

Mr Bondi said he will be keeping in touch with Mgr Gouder regarding the meeting with Mgr Scicluna. When contacted on Monday evening, Mgr Scicluna said he was willing to meet them in collaboration with the Archdioceses of Malta.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us