The Church has announced a new procedure for the immediate investigation of sexual abuse allegations and to determine the probability of such abuse having taken place.

In a statement, the Curia said it was publishing its new procedures for the protection of children and vulnerable adults, including the procedure to be followed when sexual abuse is reported.

The emphasis of the procedure is on education and prevention of abuse as well as ensuring that when abuse takes place, it is investigated in the fastest possible time. The procedure also reiterates the Church’s commitment to offer psychological and spiritual help to the victims of abuse, whether children or vulnerable adults

The revision was made at the request of the Bishops and heads of religious orders. It provides for the setting up of a Safeguarding Commission formed of professionals whose duties would include risk assessment in each case,

The procedure provides for an investigator to collect information on alleged abuse in the shortest possible time. He will determine the facts and determine whether the probability that abuse had taken place by a member of the church or somebody else involved in the Church.

The delegate heading the commission will assist institutions such as churches and teaching centres and parishes to improve their services for the protection of children and vulnerable adults.

The full team will be announced at the end of January.

See the full procedure document on pdf below.

Bishop Charles J Scicluna, apostolic administrator in a pastoral letter for Advent, issued today, has called for pubic cooperation by reporting abuse or the risk of abuse.

"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," he said in the letter. (See the full text on pdf )

REFORM WAS YEARS IN THE MAKING

The reform will spell the end for the Church's Response Team in its present form. The Response Team had been been criticised for being slow in its investigation of claims of sexual abuse.  

The Church policy dealing with clerical sex abuse was introduced in 1999 and a review of procedures and structures has been going on for the past four years.

Mgr Scicluna confirmed to Times of Malta earlier this month that a reform was to be carried out jointly by the diocese of Malta and that of Gozo.

Gozo Bishop Mgr Mario Grech  acknowledged the review took a long time to be conclude.

“This was not a response to the recent case but what is more important now is that we are at the end of the process. This [sex abuse cases] is not an issue we are indifferent to.”

The Response Team came in for renewed criticism lately when it transpired that an investigation into a woman’s claims that she was abused by Dominican priest Charles Fenech had not been concluded eight years later.

The two bishops publicly criticised the length of time it took the Response Team to investigate the case.

Fr Joe Borg, The Sunday Times of Malta columnist, also lashed out at the delay, calling it “unacceptable and scandalous”.
 
The woman, in her 40s, alleged she was abused during the course of a relationship with Fr Fenech that spanned a number of years. This allegedly started when she was receiving treatment at Mount Carmel Hospital.

She reported the case to the Curia Response Team in 2006.

Fr Fenech is facing criminal charges, but the former director of the Kerygma Movement has failed to appear in court three times for the first sitting. He has denied the allegations through his lawyers.

Similar criticism towards the Response Team was levelled a couple of years ago when an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of orphans by priests dragged on for eight years.

The internal Church investigation was only concluded after the Vatican got involved and sent Mgr Scicluna, then its chief prosecutor, to interview the victims.

The two priests involved in the case have since been defrocked and were also sentenced to jail by the criminal court.

REPORTING OF ABUSE

The new procedure (see pdf below) provides that " The Bishops will cooperate

with civil authorities to ensure that any requirements of Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities are complied with in good time."