Abuse victims complain to pope over lack of sanctions


SEVEN MALTESE clerical sex abuse victims have written to Pope Benedict XVI to complain about the church’s failure to impose sanctions on the priests accused of abusing them, according to Italian and Maltese media reports last weekend.

The seven victims, who were among a group of survivors who met Pope Benedict in a much publicised private encounter during his pastoral visit to Malta last April, complain that eight years after criminal charges were filed against three priests, neither clerical nor state judicial authorities have yet to impose sanctions.

In October 2003, criminal charges were filed against three priests – Fr Charles Pulis, Fr Conrad Sciberras and Br Joseph Bonnett – accusing them of sexually abusing young boys in their care at the St Joseph’s Home in Santa Venera, Malta, during the 1980s and 1990s. The case, which has not concluded, received huge international attention last April when, on the eve of the pope’s visit, the victims chose to speak out about their ordeal.

In their letter last weekend, the victims accuse both the Maltese judicial authorities and the church of dragging their feet, notwithstanding the fact that the three priests, back in 2003, originally admitted the abuse. Furthermore, they claim, both an archdiocesan response team and the Vatican’s own “promoter of justice” in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Malta native Msgr Charles Scicluna, concluded that the victims’ allegations were well founded.

“In Malta, the church, political power and the judiciary are all the same thing. For example, a government minister came into the court to testify on behalf of the priests. Few people, even amongst the opposition, are on our side. People here are very religious and are frightened of accusing priests,” say the victims.

The victims claim that it is unclear whether the Vatican or the Archdiocese of Malta will eventually rule on the accused priests, adding in the letter: “We are very disappointed that these priests are still going about in clerical clothes.”

On the state judicial front, the criminal case against the three priests now risks a further lengthy delay given that last week the accused filed a constitutional application alleging that their right to a fair trial has been undermined by media publicity. When the case originally came before the Maltese courts, defence lawyers successfully requested a ban on the reporting of court proceedings.