Paedophile Priests Are Caesar's Responsibility, Not God's
By Daphne Caruana Galizia
January 29, 2006
Where there is true separation of Church and State, in the hearts and minds of the people as well as in their legal and political system, priests are not viewed as being above or beyond the law, and nor is the Church seen as a State within a State, with the right to deal with its own criminals as it deems fit or not at all. As long as I live, I will never understand why, in 2006, the Catholic Church in Malta has been permitted to assume the right to investigate criminal acts performed by Catholic priests or by lay workers who operate under its auspices, to the apparent exclusion of intervention by the police, and with the seeming collusion of an indifferent government.
More so, I will never understand how the citizens of this country continue to accept such forms of abuse of the democratic process without so much as a whisper, unless it is because they have been indoctrinated from birth to understand, sometimes even against their better judgement, that the laws of the Catholic Church take precedence over the laws of the land and the principles of democracy. If so, then we have no right to condemn the Muslims who defend the regime of sharia, wherein the laws of their religion are also the laws of the State, because our thinking is remarkably similar and secularism has had to be forced upon us.
It is a reflection of our lack of sophistication in these matters that, when our children tell us that they have been fiddled about with by a priest or a doctrine instructor, we don't head for Police Headquarters in Floriana, but for the Curia across the road. This is roughly equivalent to going to the headmaster when your child tells you that he has been fondled by a teacher, and letting the buck stop there instead of filing a police report.
The State and its people have allowed the representatives of the Catholic Church in Malta to go so far as to set up a 'response team', and an investigative body headed by a retired judge, which looks into reports of paedophile activity by priests and lay Catholic workers, taking upon itself duties which, in a secular democracy such as ours, rather than a State under sharia law, properly belong to the police and to the courts of justice.
The crass irresponsibility of the Church in this matter is quite beyond my comprehension. It is entitled to discipline its own members; indeed, it is obliged to do so. Yet it is not entitled to shirk its moral and civic duty in reporting those members to the police. Any Church is entitled to give instructions to its believers as to what to do and how to behave, and no government has the right to interfere unless those instructions undermine democracy, law and order, or human rights. Equally, no Church, however powerful and widely supported, has the right to interfere in the workings of the State, unless democracy, law and order, or human rights are being undermined.
The head of a Church which operates in a fully functional democracy should, when he is faced with worried parents whose son has been molested by a priest or doctrine teacher, say to them: "Molesting children is a very, very serious crime. Go to the police, and if you don't, I will do so myself." Instead, the Church insists on a monopoly on the investigation, and despite the seriousness of the crime the police are kept out of it. How can we accept this? It is truly appalling.
The Curia claims that it is the parents themselves who don't want to go to the police. I find this very hard to believe. The kind of people who report paedophile priests to the Curia, rather than to the police (which is what I would do), are the very sort who are naturally subservient to the authority of the Church (which I am not). It is well within the ability of the Curia to convince these people to cross the road and file a report with the Vice Squad.
They could even cross the road with them and hold their hand for encouragement and moral support while they do it. But they don't. Like the wife who maintains a blanket of silence over her husband's sexual abuse of their daughter, so that the neighbours won't talk, the Curia closes ranks around the filth in its midst, as though these child molesters are anything other than common criminals who should be run over by the wheels of justice.
We are told that the 'response team' has 'investigated' more than 80 cases of alleged child molestation by priests or lay Catholic workers. This figure alone is disturbing. Parents do not capriciously make these reports, to the Church, about the representatives of the Church. They would think long and hard before doing it, and consider themselves to have quite serious grounds for suspicion. Yet the 'response team' found that molestation had occurred in just (just?) 24 cases, while several others remained ambiguous and the rest were deemed to be unjust accusations. We have not been told how many perpetrators were involved in these 24 cases, though this is an essential piece of information because most of us would like to be reassured that they do not appertain to 24 individuals with paedophile tendencies, which would be deeply perturbing, but to an energetic few.
We have been left without another piece of information, which is far more important in the democratic context. Has the Curia filed, with the police, reports about these 24 cases in which its 'response team' has found certain evidence of child molestation, as it is morally bound to do? Or has it locked those files in a large safe somewhere, in the deeply misguided belief that the right and duty to deal with paedophiles in its fold belongs to the Church alone? I think we forget that Christ's teaching on giving Caesar what is Caesar's and God what is God's was not a lesson about paying one's taxes, but about the separation of powers. The Church should deal with paedophile priests in the way of an organisation disciplining its members – in this case, by defrocking them very publicly. It has been so long since a priest was defrocked here, if ever at all, that the expression has fallen out of use. But the Church also has a civic duty to report these molesters to Caesar, and to ensure that they are dealt with according to the laws of Caesar, by Caesar's law-keepers.
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I am trying to work out what it says about us when the media is dominated by the ceremony to confirm the new bishop of Gozo (despite the fact that news of his appointment was already weeks old), rather than by the news that a priest from Nadur has just absconded to the USA to escape investigation for child molestation. Oh, hadn't you heard about that? You see what I mean, then. Meanwhile, the new bishop on the same island was all over the place in the news coverage, as though we are going to see nothing of him in the next two generations and have to make the most of him now before he disappears.
Last weekend, the archpriest of Nadur confirmed to a Sunday newspaper that several people had told him how this priest had molested their children. Foolishly, and I might even add irresponsibly, he did not report the man to the police, but to the Curia's 'response team.' The 'response team' interviewed the parents of the molested children and meanwhile, the man – I can't bring myself to call him a priest – got himself a visa to the United States and vanished. The visa application form does not carry the question 'Are you or have you ever been a child molester? Please tick the appropriate box.' This does not mean, however, that the US embassy is not interested in knowing that a visa applicant is a child molester. It merely means that, because the Church chose not to report him to the police, there was no police investigation for the US embassy to find out about him. There is nothing to prevent the embassy from alerting the federal police to his lurking presence now that they can find out within minutes who he is, if they have not done so already.
Perhaps, in his depravity, he will be foolish enough to molest a child over there in the United States, where there is no nonsense about the separation of Church and State, and no truck with Church 'response teams', and finally justice will be served – though at the expense of some poor kid who will suffer because the Church in Malta believes it has more authority over some criminals than the police do.
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A comment by the Nadur archpriest, Monsignor Salvu Muscat, left me confounded. To justify his action in reporting this man to the Curia, rather than to the police, he said: "It is normal for me to refer complaints to my superiors. When there is something bad happening, I don't leave it hanging."
Complaints? Complaints? How can the accusation by several parents that their children have been molested by the same priest ever be described as a 'complaint' or classified as such? ("We have received complaints about the lack of heating in Church, the quality of instruction in doctrine classes, and oh, some parishioners have said that Fr X is fiddling with their children. Now let's move on to the question of who's doing the altar flowers."). Even odder was his remark that the molester "left Malta without informing anyone beforehand." I'm sorry, but am I the one who is living in a parallel universe, because that's how I'm beginning to feel? I suppose Monsignor Muscat expected Fr X to call him and say, "Isma, Salv – jien se nahrab u mmur l-Amerka, ta." And then: "He never spoke to me about anything and it was his decision to leave" – really, what a surprise! – "We have not been in contact, so I don't know exactly where he is." If he does call you, Monsignor Muscat, find out where he is and ruddy well go to the police. Remember that you're not just a priest, you are also a citizen of Malta.
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Worse still, the Curia's public relations office (yes, it has one) has announced that it cannot "confirm or deny" reports that the escaped priest is being investigated for molesting children in Nadur. The Statement issued by the Church public relations people negates the very essence of public relations, which is just that: relating to the public. Read it: "The Response Team forwards its report and recommendations to the bishop or religious superior concerned. Action is taken according to the particular circumstances of the case. The proceedings of the response team are conducted in camera. Due to confidentiality, the Response Team cannot confirm or deny whether it is investigating a particular case or not."
Well, what can I say? It's too late, anyway, buddy, because he's halfway across the world, probably trying to get himself a green card so that he can work as a kindergarten assistant. And if he's nabbed for molesting an American nine-year-old, nobody in the USA is going to wait around for the 'response team' of the Maltese Curia to finish its prolonged deliberations and submit a report to the diocese. Thank God for that.
* * *
When these depraved people are allowed to evade real justice – and by that, I mean State justice and not Church 'response teams' – their victims' agony increases. One young man has been sending out e-mails that describe in detail how he was systematically preyed upon by the escaped priest from the age of eight, when he became an altar boy. The reaction of the Nadur archpriest to these messages is that they "may be exaggerated" and that they are offensive to the priest's family in Nadur (parallel universe again). "When my mother went to the archpriest and bishop, they told her, 'Please don't say anything about this, because you will harm the Church'," the young man claims. The problem, of course, is that she went to the archpriest and bishop, rather than to the police. This fact is staring us in the face, yet we fail to acknowledge it. Bishops and archpriests are not the appropriate authorities to whom the serious crime of child molestation should be reported. The police force is the appropriate authority. Write that out, stick it on your fridge, and repeat it several times a day until it sinks in. Then you will have begun to understand what Christ meant when he told us to give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.
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