Curia Writes about False Allegations against the Archbishop

Malta Today
November 5, 2006

Reference is made to the article "Gozitan clergy abuse scandal rocks Maltese Church's omerta", written by Mr Karl Schembri, and published in the 'MaltaToday' on the 22 October 2006.

Archbishop Mgr Joseph Mercieca fully rejects the gratuitous insinuations and allegations levelled against him by Mr Karl Schembri.

The following are three instances where Mr Schembri claimed that:

1. The Archbishop "steadfastly ignored warnings from foreign dioceses about priests who had child abuse records and were named and blamed in the foreign and national press". False.

2. "Mgr Mercieca was in fact responsible for handpicking" a particular priest "who after learning of child abuse reports to Canadian police was rushed to Malta and posted as a spiritual director in a girl's secondary school in Malta." Also, "incredibly the Maltese Archbishop posts him as a spiritual director at " False.

3. The religious priest was rushed to Malta from Canada and "the Curia takes denial and stops investigations." False.

It is very unfortunate, to say the least, that Mr Schembri continues to persist in his false and malicious accusations in spite of having been provided, on various occasions since 2002, with information and explanations by the Public Relations Office of the Archbishop's Curia. Such system of conduct is contrary to the Code of Ethics of Maltese Journalists. Freedom of expression and of the media is one of the cornerstones of a democracy. However, no one has the right to abuse this fundamental principle.

Mr Schembri's stance in his article published on Sunday the 22 October 2006 in "MaltaToday", reflects his same highly objectionable approach in an article he wrote on 26 October 2003 in 'The Malta Independent on Sunday". On that occasion, Mr Schembri's reporting of the answers he was given by the Public Relations Office of the Archbishop's Curia was so selective and unfair that, "The Malta Independent", i.e. the daily sister paper of "The Malta Independent on Sunday" agreed to publish immediately the full text of Mr Schembri's questions and the answers given to him by this Office. In fact, "The Malta Independent" published the full text of the questions and answers the very next day, i.e. 27 October 2003.

One of Mr Schembri's questions then was the following: "What does the Archbishop reply to the suggestion that he forms part of the 'culture of Omerta' which he so harshly criticised a couple of months ago?"

The PRO of the Archbishop's Curia replied as follows:

"The very fact that the Archbishop was a leading figure in the efforts that led to the introduction of the Response Team in itself shows that the Archbishop wanted to encourage victims to come forward with the truth and so help to identify and combat better the abuse. At the same time, the Archbishop fully shares the policy that victims (or their guardians) should be done that may discourage them from doing so.

"The basic reasons behind the fact that the Response Team continues to deal with the cases in full confidentiality are (a) because Canon Law requires such confidentiality; (b) many of the alleged victims that have been coming forward to the Response Team insist that they are only ready if they are guaranteed full confidentiality.

"The Archbishop strongly rejects and regrets 'the suggestion that he forms part of the 'culture of Omerta' which he so harshly criticised a couple of months ago".

Thus, it is incomprehensible how Mr Schembri is alleging that the Archbishop has opted "instead to bury his internal inquiries". The Archbishop is deeply grieved whenever members of the clergy, whose vocation is to help people lead a holy life in the sight of God, cause suffering especially to the young, and expresses his solidarity and concern to the victims and their families.

The Church in Malta acts according to Canon Law and Holy See directives in vigore. The policy and procedure of the Church in Malta regarding allegations of sexual abuse is known to the Vatican authorities. At the same time, it does not hold anyone from reporting cases of abuse to the police.

Charles Buttigieg
Public Relations Officer
Archbishop's Curia
Editorial note:

Mr Buttigieg claims the Archbishop rejects three specific statements which are however entirely grounded in fact.

The Archbishop ignored warnings and held back information from foreign dioceses in at least two particular cases that have been documented in the press. One case regards Fr Louis Scerri, a former Jesuit dismissed by his order following serious child abuse allegations. He was allowed to leave abroad and work in a parish in Bournemouth, UK, Diocese of Portsmouth, where he was then given marching orders as soon as the diocese got to know he was being investigated for child abuse. At no point did the Maltese Curia share its information with the Portsmouth Diocese. In fact, the Communications Director of the Portsmouth Diocese, Barry Hudd, said in 2002: "Our initial information didn't come through church circles. As soon as we heard we withdrew his licence to serve in the Portsmouth diocese. We didn't know about the allegations until the day he got his marching orders. If we had had that information we would have shared it."

Another case regards Fr Godwin Scerri. The Maltese Archbishop posted the priest at Can. P. Pullicino Girls' Secondary School in Rabat, a year after news of his alleged sexual abuses in Canada were made public on the Canadian and Maltese media in 1993. When his name surfaced in new child abuse allegations in 2003 linked to the St Joseph Home for children in Santa Venera, a spokesman for the Education Division had told The Malta Independent on Sunday: "Fr Scerri was posted at the Rabat state school between 1994 and the first weeks of this academic year. Fr Scerri was hand-picked by the Curia, which selects spiritual directors for our schools." The Curia never challenged that statement given by government officials, particularly that Fr Scerri was "hand-picked by the Curia".

A year before he was posted there, The Windsor Star broke the news about criminal charges Fr Godwin Scerri was facing in Canada. The report published on 24 June, 1993, said that Fr Scerri was facing "sexual assault charges if he ever returns to Canada" following a warrant of arrest issued by the Ontario Provincial Police. Police sources told The Malta Independent on Sunday last week that Canadian police did not issue an international arrest warrant against Fr Scerri, meaning that he could only be arrested on Canadian territory.

Fr Scerri, who had fled from Canada and accepted back in Malta by Mgr Mercieca by the time his arrest was ordered, had allegedly sexually abused a 12-year-old boy while he was in Emeryville and Pelee Island between 1983 and 1987. The Windsor Star report said that the Maltese Curia had been informed of the charges, including sexual assault and gross indecency, adding that Fr Scerri had refused to return to Canada.

Three months later, KullHadd followed up the story and published the charges against Fr Scerri in a front-page report on 5 September 1993. Following his steps here in Malta, KullHadd reported that Fr Scerri was posted by the MSSP at the San Domenico Savio oratory for youths in Birkirkara, as well as St Joseph's Home in Santa Venera, where he allegedly abused children. Fr Scerri is in fact now facing paedeophilia charges for crimes he allegedly committed after his return to Malta at the St Joseph Home, together with Fr Charles Pulis and Br Joseph Bonnett.

The Archbishop's Curia had confirmed to KullHadd that it knew about the allegations in Canada "but only through foreign newspaper reports" while former MSSP Superior General Fr James Bonello had told the media that Fr Scerri had denied the allegations during the MSSP's internal "preliminary investigations".

Without referring to Fr Scerri by name, Mr Buttigieg told The Malta Independent on Sunday that when the curia's Secretariat for the Clergy "came to know that a religious priest who had previously been accused of child abuse in another country was serving as a spiritual director at a particular girls' school" it rested its case on the priest's own denial of the charges.

"Exchanges followed between the Secretariat and the religious superior of the religious priest concerned, whose religious order had investigated his case," Mr Buttigieg had said. "The kind of information that was made available to the Curia Secretariat at that stage regarding the alleged child abuse was (a) that the religious priest concerned had always strongly denied the allegation against him by one person; (b) according to investigations carried out by the religious order the evidence available did not show a probability that the alleged abuse did take place".

The curia was also reportedly informed about the Canadian arrest warrant by Ontario Police, apart from media reports published at that time. Mr Buttigieg would not answer whether the Curia had contacted Canadian police about the case, nor whether it had contacted the Canadian victim. Despite the Curia's knowledge of the charges, Mr Buttigieg said "the Curia was not involved".

The MSSP's "investigation" itself was, however, concluded, on the basis of Fr Scerri's denial that he ever abused children in Canada.


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