'What are other organisations doing about child abuse?'

Times of Malta
February 06, 2021

Azzopardi mentioned football clubs as an example of organisations which should have safeguarding structures.

[with video]

Head of Church's safeguarding commission says its example should be copied

The Church’s progress in developing ways of exposing child abuse cases is not being repeated by other organisations which are involved with children, the head of its Safeguarding Commission has said.

Andrew Azzopardi said that such organisations – from football clubs to schools – needed safeguarding structures of their own, to ensure victims of abuse had a way of reporting it.

“How can the police know what is going on in a football ground, school or church? Building a safe culture must come internally,” Azzopardi said.

The Safeguarding Commission was established in 2015 to investigate cases of alleged abuse, facilitate reporting of such cases and train people to better identify and respond to abuse cases.

It returned to headlines in recent weeks after two Xagħra priests faced criminal charges for having allegedly abused an altar boy. A court has heard that the victim only reported the abuse to the police after being urged to do so by the commission.

Azzopardi was speaking during a radio interview with his namesake, academic Andrew Azzopardi, aired on 103 Malta’s Heart.

He said that while cases of clerical sex abuse attracted heavy media coverage, what was often missed was that these cases had only come to light because the Church had set up internal structures which facilitated reporting.

“We’ve had this approach for six years. We know about the cases in the media because of the Safeguarding Commission. What do other organisations have?”

Azzopardi acknowledged that the Malta Football Association has hired a person to carry out such work, but said the investment was disproportionate to the popularity of the sport in Malta.

International football governing body FIFA, he noted, has been investing significantly in this sphere over the past years.  

Azzopardi said that in some other countries, all organisations which were involved with children were legally obliged to have safeguarding structures in place, similar to that run by the Church. That is not the case in Malta, although he acknowledged that the recently introduced Minor Protection Act was an improvement on the previous legal framework.

In the interview, the Safeguarding Commission boss also addressed some prevailing myths about child abuse.

The percentage of priests involved in sex abuse is not statistically higher than that within broader society, he said, with research suggesting anything between four and seven per cent of a society tends to be involved in the abuse of minors.

Furthermore, he said, no study has found any link between paedophilia and chastity, which priests vow to respect. The vast majority of abusers – as many as 90% - have an adult partner, he said.


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