The Malta Independent 17 October 2019, Thursday

Commission to ensure individuals working within church institutions do not pose risk to children

Therese Bonnici Thursday, 22 January 2015, 10:53 Last update: about 6 years ago

A commission for the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults, set up by the church, will seek to ensure that adults working within church instructions do not a pose a risk to the children they work with.

The commission is also responsible for investigating cases of social abuse and assisting the police in their investigations. Any member of the clergy or other individuals working within church institutions may be suspended temporarily or permanently if they pose a risk to the people they work with. Even in cases where there is not enough evidence, the individual in question may be suspended, if there is a doubt that he or she poses a threat. It is ultimately the superiors who decide whether one is suspended or not, however the advice of the commission will be taken into consideration.

The commission, set to start functioning next month, will be taking over the Church’s Response Team and will inherit five cases – three involving a minor and two involving an adult. Two of the cases have already been made public. The board holds the legal obligation to report any allegation of sexual abuse to the civil authorities. Some cases need also be forwarded to the Vatican – but this depends on the role held by the individual alleged to have committed the crime.

Education workshops and discussions will be held with members of the church working with children or vulnerable adults. Those still to be recruited within church institutions – including church schools – will undergo a strong scrutinising process.  Church institutions are also obliged to review the sexual offender’s list every so often.

The police document, launched this morning states that in cases when a pastoral functionary engages in sexual contact in a pastoral relationship, such behavior is considered to be always abusive, whether with or without consent.  Pastoral functionaries are expected to behave in an exemplary way, even in their social life outside such pastoral activities. When social relationships become sexualized, even with consent, they are considered inappropriate, unacceptable and scandalous.

The commission will be led by social worker Andrew Azzopardi, as revealed by The Malta Independent on Sunday back in November. Azzopardi led the English Football Association’s Safeguarding Team in the United Kingdom, which investigates allegations of abuse perpetrated by people who are in positions of trust, such as coaches, referees, and medical staff.

Other members of  the commission include clinical psychologist Roberta Attard, Dr Kevin Borg – a medical doctor specializing in pediatrics, Salesian educator and social worker Fr Antoine Farrugia and Counseling psychologist and family therapist Clarissa Sammut Scerri. Lawyer Dr Joseph Sammut will be offering legal advice to the commission.

In a press conference this morning, Apostolic Administrator Charles Scicluna said that the commission’s main task would be creating a safe environment through awareness and education.

Andrew Azzopardi said that such cases of sexual abuse usually happen in dark corners, and the commission will aim to shed light on such cases. He said that the commission is not responsible of deciding whether an individual is guilty or not, but to give a voice to the most vulnerable and to prevent such cases from happening again, by preaching good practice. He said that such cases should be properly addressed, and not avoided by church institutions.

An annual report will be forwarded to the archbishop of Malta and Gozo, and will be made public. The report will include statistics of the number of cases being dealt with, however details of the case will not be available – to safeguard the privacy of those involved.

Those who have any information can contact the commission by sending an email on [email protected] or calling on 25906421.




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