The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Priestly abuse: Playing around with responsibility issues

Malta Independent Wednesday, 21 August 2013, 08:02 Last update: about 7 years ago

We had expressed our opinion on this subject once, but of course, the powers that be in the Maltese Church took no notice of us.

The Curia’s legal representatives recently made their submissions in court in reference to the abuse of boys at the St Joseph’s Home. Just as Bishop Scicluna had claimed right from the start of his appointment, the Church’s legal team said its client is not legally responsible for the (pedophile) crimes committed by ordained and practicing Churchmen. It said that while it sympathized with the victims, the Church does not intend to pay any compensation. This is an ugly scene, a very ugly one.

We can think of no other country in the world where Church leaders tried this argument and got away with it. The defendants would have been laughed right out of court with such an argument, which is why no other diocese used this sort of argument and why many have bankrupted themselves in paying out compensation, rather than try it. Can we say that it is only in Malta that Church finances outweigh all other considerations?

Around the world, faced with charges and accusations from victims who told of infinite pain they suffered, the Church suffered a huge loss of face. Popes, such as Pope Benedict and even Pope Francis have been scathing in their condemnation of the crimes committed by priests and have apologized to the victims, in some cases, as happened in Malta, the Pope personally to the victims.

In normal circumstances a family a member who is arraigned in court and charged with a (sex) crime suffers huge loss of face. Its members do not dare show their faces outside the door and the event leaves a terrible mark on that family that will only be erased, if it ever can be, after many years. Do we dare suspect that the Church in Malta, does not have the slightest tinge of shame and that all is back to normal? Has the Church lost the ‘common sense of shame’?

The Church in Malta has fought a long and costly rearguard battle to disprove the allegations against the priests who were accused of such crimes. We still do not know who paid the priests’ high legal fees for some of the top lawyers in Malta. Many believe that the priests and their families just did not have that kind of money.

Maybe the delays in the court’s proceedings were not the result of discreet Church pressure, nor was the secrecy in which some of the proceedings were cloaked. But surely this latest rearguard action by the Church’s team in not wanting to pay compensation is the worst stance the Church could take.

As in so many other countries, these cases that made it to court are only the tip of the iceberg. So many other victims have paid the price, suffered in silence and have had their lives turned upside down because of abuse.

The world’s news tell us, time and again, how big international companies fight allegations such as regarding corruption or other crimes. They do fight the allegations with all legal means, but at the end they usually compromise and a financial deal is agreed to. But this is the Church, not a company, and the allegations are far more damning than allegations of corruption. What is good for a company may be very damaging for a Church.

Such is the torpor and mental befuddlement that grips our people that the abuse allegations have long disappeared from the national horizon and from the attention of the media. Ironically, it had to be this plea by the Church’s legal team that resurrected the issue.

And it made us remember that, come to it, the Church in Malta has been silent both about the pushback controversy and on the corruption allegations at Enemalta. The Church has reduced itself to be a Church of silence and its role, at least that is how it looks like in summer, is only that of the organizer of feasts.

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