Gozo Bishop Mario Grech is asking for forgiveness from those who were abused as children while in the care of the Dominican nuns at the Lourdes Home in Gozo.

His apology comes in the wake of a report, which confirms that "in some particular cases there had been inadmissible behaviour involving minors that should have never taken place". The outcome of the report, compiled by a commission set up by Mgr Grech to investigate allegations of physical and psychological abuse perpetrated on minors during their stay at Lourdes House, was released last night; 22 months behind schedule.

Mgr Grech said the Church wanted to accompany these persons, who are now adults and who have suffered unwarranted behaviour, through a healing process.

"I have to show my sorrow for all that was of detriment to these children. I ask forgiveness from those who have suffered because of this behaviour," he said in a press statement.

"I have already appointed a team of experts who will accompany these persons through this process. I have also made contact with the persons involved and will be closely following the case," Mgr Grech said. The number of victims has not been released, however, sources close to the Church told The Times that the number of people who suffered from hurtful behaviour was "very small" compared to the huge number of children who were provided a new life thanks to the care they received at Lourdes Home.

"However, for the Church, persons are more important than numbers. This means that even if one boy or girl was abused, it's unacceptable. This is why the Bishop has unconditionally asked for forgiveness," the sources stressed.

In its report, the commission made a series of recommendations to ensure such abuses never happen again and Mgr Grech has already contacted the Superior General of the Dominican Sisters and instructed her to implement the proposals.

The recommendations have not been made public, however, the sources said the premise of these revolve around the fact that whoever is found guilty of abusing a person, particularly a child, will be prohibited from working in this sphere.

Despite the findings, Mgr Grech did not wish to dismiss the sterling work carried out with "great love and dedication by a great number of Dominican Sisters" during the home's long history.

"I sincerely hope and recommend that Lourdes Home will continue to give this service to the Church and to society," Mgr. Grech said.

The commission - chaired by Judge Victor Caruana Colombo, and including lawyer Ruth Farrugia, psychologist Angela Abela, and Mgr Fortunat Mizzi - was set up in April 2006.

The commission's findings, which Mgr Grech felt would help him in his pastoral ministry, should have been presented within two months but the investigations dragged on and the report was only presented a few weeks ago.

When the allegations were first made public in 1999, Bishop Emeritus Nikol Cauchi had set up the first commission, which had drawn up a report that concluded the claims were unfounded.

"Since there exists the possibility that whoever is making these allegations was not heard, or those who took part in the previous investigations can have fresh information, Mgr Grech has set up a (new) commission to examine whether there are new elements that can shed light on these incidents," the press release announcing the launch of the commission in April 2006 had said.

The Gozo Diocese set up the second commission after the allegations had been aired on the television programme Bondiplus, where about eight victims - who were in their late 20s, mostly in their 30s, and 40s - had come forward to recount their traumatic experience.

During the programme one man had recounted how he was force-fed and when he threw up was made to eat his vomit. Another man had his hand ironed and a woman spoke of how she was dragged by the hair along the corridor.

"We had carried two programmes, one in 2006 and another in 2007, to establish why the commission was taking so long to release its report. We are proposing to air another edition to close this unfortunate chapter," Bondiplus executive producer Lou Bondì said.

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