Letter Not Enough Victims Want Paedophile Priests behind Bars

By Scott Grech
Malta Independent
October 31, 2010

Several of the victims who claim they were sexually abused by priests at St Joseph's Home in Santa Venera, where they lived when they were growing up, expressed their satisfaction to the media yesterday after the local Church had informed them that their allegations were founded.

TV presenter Lou Bondi, the victims' spokesman, said: "All sexually abused victims have received a letter from Fr Louis Mallia, superior general of the Missionary Society of St Paul (MSSP), advising that the Archdiocese's response team have confirmed that their allegations of sexual abuse against Fr Charles Pulis, Fr Conrad Sciberras (who has since fled to Italy) and Bro. Joseph Bonnett are founded.

"The case against the three men will now be sent to the Vatican for adjudication, and a decision on whether to defrock the priests or not is expected to be reached in the coming weeks, as court proceedings against the priests in Malta continue.

"It is worth keeping in mind that the three members of the clergy have not, as yet, been found guilty of sexual abuse. However, the fact that the Church has finally admitted that the allegations against the priests are founded proves that the victims are getting closer to justice," said Mr Bondi.

However, there was no mention from the response team of Fr Godwin Scerri, another accused priest against whom court proceedings are also ongoing.

Victims who were present at the press conference yesterday included some who were appearing in public for the first time. The men were Philip Cauchi, 40, Joseph Magro, 38, Lawrence Grech, 38, Oliver Goodram, 39 and Joseph Mangion, 37.

Lawrence Grech, who often speaks on behalf of the victims, said that waiting seven "painfully long" years for a decision from the Archdiocese's response team "is an utter scandal".

"Although this letter is better late than never, what we victims want now is for the priests to spend the rest of their lives behind bars."

Rest assured, Mr Grech added, that had "Pope Benedict XVI not visited Malta earlier this year, we would still, seven years later, have been in limbo".

The victims said that they had nothing but "thanks and praise" for Archbishop Paul Cremona, who had met them twice, and for Mgr Carmel Scicluna, the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, "who provided us with guidance as we shared with him our troubled past".

When contacted yesterday and asked for his opinion as to why the response team had taken seven years to reply to the victims, Archbishop Cremona said that he did not have much to add to what had been said already, that he "has shared the victims' grief" and that he hoped things would now move on.

It was only after stories by Mr Grech and two other men broke on Bondiplus and this newspaper in 2003 that the police started taking their claims of sexual abuse by priests seriously. Shortly afterwards, three other victims spoke of their ordeal, and the figure increased to 12 before the Pope's visit this year. However, Mr Grech said yesterday that five more people had approached the group after the Pontiff's visit, saying that the same priests had also abused them while they were growing up in St Joseph's Home, increasing the number of victims to 17.

After the story broke, members of the clergy had said they "would make sure that the four men are, for the time being, no longer in direct contact with children".

While court proceedings started in 2003, they were moving at "a snail's pace, which prolongs our search for justice," Mr Grech had said in a press conference in April.

Proceedings, however, have gathered pace over the past few months, with lawyer Patrick Valentino, who represents the victims, saying he expects "a judgement against the priests to be delivered in the coming months.

"All sexually abused victims have testified, and the defence counsel has started its cross examinations, so it shouldn't take long for justice to prevail," he said.

The victims met Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Malta on 18 April. Mr Grech had described the meeting as "extraordinary and out of this world", and remarked it was not fair that Pope Benedict XVI was being made to face the music for the mistakes that others had made before him.

Yesterday he said: "Why should we be the ones to be ashamed when we have done nothing wrong? Why are some people defending the priests, who are still getting paid by the Church, and treating our allegations with scepticism? Why have I only received this letter now, after seven long years of recounting all my horrifying experiences to the media?"

Sporting a T-shirt with the words "I belong to Jesus" yesterday, Joseph Magro said that, despite his ordeal, he has faith in God but not in priests.

"For a very long time I didn't want to have anything to do with the Church. That was until I became friends with a pastor, who guided me closer to God. "I read the Bible regularly and I am starting to now see Him in a different light," he said.

Asked whether he attends Mass, Mr Magro replied: "Absolutely not, because although I have faith in God, I cannot bring myself to look any priest in the eye".

Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.