The Vatican has instructed the Maltese Church to set up a tribunal to conduct the judicial process into allegations that three priests sexually abused boys at an orphanage two decades ago.
Judges from the Metropolitan Tribunal will be involved in the tribunal, which will be set up in a few days’ time, a Curia spokesmanyesterday told The Sunday Times.
The latest development is a major step towards the conclusion of Church proceedings against three priests accused of molesting children, aged 13 to 16, while in their care at St Joseph’s Home inSt Venera in the late 1980s.
The alleged victims, now in their late 30s, have repeatedly accused the Church of using delaying tactics and being reluctant to take action against the priests.
The Curia said last October that following its investigations by its Response Team, there was enough evidence to support allegations by eight men that they were sexually abused as minors and the case was referred to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith for evaluation.
A Curia spokesman said yesterday that after studying all the documentation gathered by the Response Team, it is now up to the Church’s judges to decide whether to summon witnesses for the tribunal. When asked, the Curia said that no timelines have been established for the tribunal, which is responsible “in conscience” to see that justice is done.
A priest could be defrocked either at the end of a judicial process or by a decree of the Pope, the Curia said.
Lawrence Grech, one of the complainants, said yesterday he hoped the Vatican’s goodwill in resolving the case would be similarly reflected by the local Church authorities.
“I fear the Curia is purposely delaying matters to wait for the outcome of the court proceedings. I don’t mind giving further evidence if I’m asked, but this case has clearly been dragging on for far too long. These priests should have been defrocked,” he told The Sunday Times.
The priests have also been charged in a criminal court with sexually abusing the boys.
Last Thursday the priests filed a constitutional case claiming their right to a fair hearing in court had been breached due to the media spotlight on their case.
Please help us, victims tell Pope
Though the four priests were charged in 2003, the case is still pending before the courts and the constitutional case is expected to delay proceedings further.
In another development, the alleged victims wrote to Pope Benedict XVI on December 27 to express their dismay over the delays.
While thanking the Pontiff for meeting them during his visit to Malta last April, the letter signed by seven men – written in Italian – said they were disgusted that the priests in question had not yet been defrocked. The men said the priests had admitted theirwrongdoing in 2003 and yet the Maltese church was acting as though nothing had happened.
“Why does the Maltese Church still protect these scandals?... We are still suffering injustices after seven years. Please help us,” the men said.
Seven years and still waiting
Lawrence Grech, 31, gives shocking interviews on the sexual abuse that he alleges he suffered as a child resident at St Joseph Home in St Venera, run by the Missionary Society of St Paul.
Police investigations headed by Assistant Commissioner Michael Cassar lead to three priests being charged in court with sex abuse of minors in their care. The court bans the publication of the priests’ names. The case is heard behind closed doors. At the same time, the Church’s Response Team initiates its investigation.
Ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s Malta visit, Mr Grech and other alleged victims of sex abuse publicly ask the head of the Catholic church to apologise for the suffering they endured as children. Subsequently, the alleged victims hold a private meeting with Archbishop Paul Cremona and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech.
Under the gaze of the world’s media, the victims are also given a private audience with the Pope in Malta. The Vatican promises it will look into their case following criticism of the Response Team, which has not yet concluded its investigation seven years on.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Archbishop Paul Cremona apologises for the delay in the church investigation. The Vatican’s Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Mgr Charles Scicluna, holds meetings in Malta with some of the alleged victims. He collects their testimony and passes on the details to the Response Team.
Questioned by The Times, Mgr Scicluna says it is up to the Maltese Church to conclude its investigations into the sex abuse allegations.
The alleged victims receive a letter from MSSP regional superior Fr Louis Mallia, informing them that their cases were “founded” and the matter is being referred to the Vatican.
In court, the priests file a constitutional application claiming their right to a fair trial has been prejudiced because of the media coverage afforded to the case. They ask the Constitutional Court to enforce the ban originally decreed by the Criminal Court and ask for it to be extended also to the constitutional case.
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