The Malta Independent 14 October 2019, Monday

To name or not to name

Stephen Calleja Wednesday, 29 October 2014, 19:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

The Malta Independent has chosen to publish all details, including the name of a priest who has been accused by various women of improper sexual behaviour. Most of these women were vulnerable persons who sought refuge in someone who they thought would help them. They were looking for consolation, but all they got, they are saying, was someone who abused them at a time when they were in a fragile state of mind.

The Times chose otherwise, hiding the name of the priest from the public, giving him protection and, by so doing, inflicting a heavy cloud of suspicion on every other priest in this country.

Since their story was published, other priests called our newsroom to protest that they had all been put in the same basket. They were ashamed that one of their colleagues - Fr Charles Fenech - had once again thrown bad light on the institution they represented, and they wanted to clear the name of the Church because the faults of one individual, if any, should not be allowed to tarnish the reputation of a group. Just as much as the judiciary is an institution, so is the Church.

If anything, people holding positions of authority or respect should be named more than others, simply because their position imposes that they behave themselves better than others.

It has been standard practice that names of people accused of sexual crimes are published unless they are relatives of their victims. This is done to protect the victim, not the accused.

The question that arises is: why not this time too?

We have been investigating these allegations, on and off, for several years. Three years ago, at the height of the campaign for the introduction of divorce, we had gathered some details but refrained from going public because the police were not well equipped with enough evidence to press charges.  Now they are and we intend to fulfil our role as journalists.

Choosing to name the priest in question was not an easy task. We had a lengthy discussion about it and finally reached the conclusion that we would be doing a disservice to our readers - and to the rest of the priests - if we kept the name to ourselves. We know that anyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and we made it clear that what these women are saying are allegations.  Those who are now lecturing the rest of the media, us in particular, on ethical standards, did not wait for the proceedings to start before splashing the story. They sought the spoils of a sensational opportunity but in doing so they cast a shadow on every priest in his fifties.  Because we knew the details of the story we decided not to stand aside but stood up to be counted.

Let us not forget that the victims of this alleged abuse have been suffering for years. The police proceeded with their charges but each time, Fr Fenech presented a medical certificate and ditched the court hearing. Far from not having the opportunity to have his charges read out to him in court. Let us also not forget that the Curia's response team has been dealing with the case for at least eight years, while during all this time Fr Fenech has remained serving in his roles within the community.

Would a politician, a journalist or a member of any other profession be given the same treatment in similar circumstances? I don't think so, and because this media institution is truly independent, we will not permit it.

 

 

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