A top Vatican official described his meetings with the alleged victims of sexual abuse as "very sad, moving and open", as two more men came forward with similar claims about priests who ran an orphanage.
"I'm here primarily to honour their request, to meet them and listen to them. But I wanted to use this occasion to get direct information about the case," Mgr Charles Scicluna told The Sunday Times yesterday after concluding meetings with six of the 13 alleged victims.
The men claim they were abused some 20 years ago at St Joseph's orphanage in St Venera.
Mgr Scicluna, Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is expected to remain in Malta until July 2 to gather information from the alleged victims against four priests who served at the institute.
When asked about a promise made to one of the accusers that action would be taken by August, Mgr Scicluna acknowledged there was a sense of urgency but said the timeframe depended on the Curia's Response Team as well as the amount of cooperation from the victims.
The Rome-based monsignor is meeting the men together with a notary, who is taking detailed statements.
His meticulous and warm approach was welcomed by the alleged victims, one of whom described his one-on-one meetings with him as "amazing".
Mgr Scicluna is the prosecuting officer in the case, but his work will rely heavily on the investigations of the Malta Curia's Response Team.
Decisions will then be taken on a local level by Archbishop Paul Cremona, together with the Vatican.
Mgr Scicluna confirmed that the toughest penalty is that of "reducing the priests to their lay state", which means defrocking them.
He said, however, he had no intention of meeting the accused priests, including one who was serving in Italy. That was the responsibility of the Response Team.
He stressed that he was in Malta to supplement the work by the Curia's Response Team, not override it.
"I am urging the men to cooperate fully with the Curia's investigation. We are working hand in hand and pulling the same rope."
The meetings will continue throughout this week.
"I might not manage to meet every one of them, but I will make sure that I know all the principal facts," he said.
The alleged victims had severely criticised the Church and police for failing to act at once against the priests in question, and have also pointed fingers at the courts for delaying proceedings. They first made their claims in 2003.
Meanwhile, two other men have emerged to make similar abuse claims about a priest at the same institute.
One of them, Joseph Mangion, told The Sunday Times he was regularly fondled by a priest by his bedside first thing in the morning when he was 16 and 17 years old.
Mr Mangion recounted his claims to Mgr Scicluna during a private meeting on Friday.
Asked why he chose to remain silent for so many years, Mr Mangion, now 37, said: "I only managed to pluck up the courage recently; especially after I saw some of my former friends speak up. I also consulted my family.
"For years I didn't know who I could speak to; I thought I shouldn't speak about it... I was scared of the priest in question, especially after I once saw him beat up my brother," Mr Mangion said.
He also blames the alleged abuse for his going off the rails for a period of time. He served a two-year and eight-month prison sentence for theft in 2001.
"I'm doing this now to help myself, to bring some closure and perhaps to help others who have chosen to stay quiet, to come out and speak.
I have nothing against priests. I still go to Mass, but it's about time I let this out," he said.
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