What’s in a name?

There is a lot. The significance of the announcement by Apostolic Administrator Bishop Charles Scicluna that the Church in Malta will be setting up a Safeguarding Commission instead of the Response Teams lies partly in the title of the commission.

To face the monstrosity called sex abuse of minors or vulnerable adults, the Church in Malta had set up a Response Team in the 1990s. When the structure was set up it was quite a radical set-up. Unfortunately things did not work out as well as one would have hoped.

The idea behind the setting up of a Response Team was for the Church to get a quick response indicating that something untoward could have happened and to take immediate steps to protect the vulnerable persons that could have been abused. Following that, a full blown investigation would be done. Instead the Response Team started doing the investigation itself. Thus things got complicated with the result that such investigations tended to be almost ever-lasting.

For the sake of doing justice to the people involved one should note that the procrastination was due to the working methods of the Chairman of one of the Response Teams and not due to its members. This was unjust to both the alleged victims and the alleged perpetrators. It was also unjust to these members of the Response Team that did their work diligently and who complained to the bishops about the situation. These persons should be thanked for their service. Had it been up to them things would have progressed well.

Unfortunately the chairman of this particular Response Team thwarted their efforts to move on efficiently and effectively. The responsibility of the egg on the face of the ecclesiastical community lies with whoever had power to remove the chairman and didn’t.

But now one hopes that this is all history.

The procedure announced by Bishop Scicluna is aimed at safeguarding more than just responding and with due alacrity more than procrastination. A professional lay person with vast experience in such investigations overseas will be responsible for the Safeguarding Commission.

Bishop Scicluna was very clear in the pastoral message he released this weekend to announce the setting up of the new procedures:

“I wish to announce that we are setting up a ‘Safeguarding Commission’ with new members and new procedures, with emphasis on building a community and an environment where we will all do our utmost to prevent abuse; in cases where abuses occur, they will be investigated and judged within the shortest time possible, according to our country’s legislation and Church law. The new procedures consolidate the Church’s commitment to offer any psychological and spiritual assistance which the victims may require.”

One cannot but be positively impressed also by Bishop Scicluna’s apology to the Maltese Catholics.

“In all humility, I beg forgiveness for all those things which could have wounded some of our brothers and sisters, and I commit myself to do my part in order that, together with the other Bishops and Religious Superiors, we may uphold our duty to safeguard our flock to the best of our abilities, and as far as we are able to.”

Politicians can learn more than one thing or two from both our bishops. It is pertinent to note here that the Bishop of Gozo, Mgr. Mario Grech has, on more than one occasion, also expressed his deep sorrow for abuses committed and complimented this sorrow with concrete actions.

The action of the bishops should now be complimented by the co-operation of their flocks. It is essential that whoever knows of any abuse to report it so that it would be stopped.