The number of Maltese going to church on Sunday has gone down to about 40 per cent of the population, newly appointed Archbishop Charles Scicluna said on TimesTalk this evening.

This marks a 10 per cent drop on attendance recorded in 2006 in the last Church census. Mgr Scicluna said that the reason why the church avoided carrying out another census was partly to do with “fear of the actual figures”.

“When in the last few weeks I spoke of the need to carry out another census so we can gauge exactly where we stand, I was met with reactions of panic: ‘Do we need to know?’. Yes of course we do,” Mgr Scicluna said.

Although he did not have official statistics in hand, he said that Church insiders informally calculated a constant decline of one per cent a year.

He said he will push for a survey to be held before the next national census by the government in 2021. “I need to know if the momentum is bigger than that,” he said.

During the programme Mgr Scicluna was also questioned on his position on the compensation of victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. However he would not comment, repeatedly stating that the civil case was still ongoing in court.

“There is a pending civil case and the church is a player in it so how can you expect me to comment? I am not in the courtroom here and you are not the judges and I will not answer. It is not fair for me to comment,” he said.

The questions on the lingering case came after Lawrence Grech, spokesman for the victims, criticised Mgr Charles Scicluna in a pre-recorded clip,  saying that the archbishop had promised to help the victims but they “did not even get a phone call from him”.

“All I got from the Church was a prescription of tranquilisers. The Archbishop said he will be a shepherd... I challenge him to come and find us – we are 12 lost sheep,” said Mr Grech, himself an abuse victim.

Mgr Scicluna, who was recently appointed president of a Vatican board hearing appeals in clerical sex abuse by Pope Francis, said: “I understand the anger of those who are abused – for 10 years of my life that was the reality I faced every day.”

He was referring to his role as Promoter of Justice at the Vatican in which he reformed the Church's statutes on reporting cases of sexual abuse. “What is certain is that they need a long process of therapy, and the court is there to assure them justice,” he said, adding that he will bow to the court’s decision.

“Mr Grech has a right to say what he said and I cannot shy away from the commitment to help these people.” It is the reason, he said, why he set up a new Safeguarding Commission, with a full-time head.

Watch a repeat of the programme here.