The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Indepth: Gozo Bishop-elect pledges ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards abuse by clergy

INDEPTH online Sunday, 28 June 2020, 11:00 Last update: about 6 months ago

All members of the Church found guilty of abusive behaviour will be fully condemned for their acts and "we will most certainly act in accordance with the approach of 'zero tolerance' as these cases are absolutely unacceptable," Gozo Bishop-elect Anton Teuma said on this week's edition of Indepth.

Teuma was last week announced as the successor to Gozo Bishop Mario Grech. His episcopal ordination will take place later on this year. 

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He was asked by The Malta Independent Media Consultant Rachel Attard what action he plans to take regarding allegations of abuse by members of the Church.

Teuma said that, "like any other situation and like everything else, there are several levels on how to face an issue." For this particular situation, he explained that there are two levels which involve the preventive level and the level of attention to ongoing cases.

Teuma added that, "we have very clear directives from the Holy See on such matters. We acknowledge the fact that if we are in doubt, each and every case has to be thoroughly investigated. It has always been very clear and categorical in this regard; thus, I will continue working on what Mario Grech started, as it is a direction I feel obliged to follow," he said.

 

Who is Fr Anton Teuma?

Teuma, who previously served in the Xagħra parish, was ordained as a priest 32 years ago.

"I eventually served in the parish of St Ignatius in Rome as a parish vicar. In the meantime, I was also studying at a Salesian University where I completed the pedagogical methodology focusing on the psychological aspect, as well as delving into the different ways on how to help people," he said.

A few years later, Teuma returned to Gozo and was appointed rector of the seminary in which he worked in the formation of future priests. He occupied this post for 10 years. He then spent a very important year in Israel, and eventually received the call to take on the role as the new Bishop of Gozo.

"I was also given the responsibility of counselling on family-related issues, therefore, I had the opportunity to help with troubled relationships between couples and between parents and their children. I have been doing this job for about twelve years and I plan on giving counselling in the future, as much as my new role will allow me to," he said.

Teuma was asked if he ever reached a point in his life where he felt that his vocation was not right for him and struggled to understand his place as a member of the Church.

He confirmed that throughout his life he has felt this way in some way or another, especially when he was in his second year of seminary. However, such moments taught him to either avoid certain choices or make a choice for more mature and superior reasons. "A choice built on avoidance is never a mature one, so the choice we make must always be towards something beautiful," he said.

 

Pastoral Works and Priorities as the new Bishop of Gozo

Teuma was further asked what his pastoral priorities will be as the new Bishop of Gozo.

 "A very important aspect is to listen to others as this is the policy of God. First and foremost, my plan is to hear with great attention my fellow priests and continue working on what was built by previous bishops, such as Mario Grech and Nikol Joseph Cauchi."

He clarified that this does not mean that he will not be listening to the Gozitan people or anyone else who seeks guidance.

During the interview, reference was made to Pope Francis' statements and clear ideas related to various topics such as immigration, racism, homosexuality and the environment which have sent shockwaves around the world. Teuma was asked whether he will follow Pope Francis's ideas in his pastoral work.

In reply, Teuma said that, "Pope Francis's convictions are the convictions of the gospel," and added that "he is the best, most beautiful and best expression of the gospel we can have in time, therefore I will follow his footsteps."

Teuma was asked whether there is a need for more collaboration between the Gozitan and Maltese diocese due to the decrease in ecclesiastical vocations in Malta.

When one looks at Malta and Gozo, the vocations within Gozo are much greater, therefore this collaboration would help in increasing the number of Gozitan priests working in Malta.

He remarked that, "currently, there are various aspects where certain functions are already done in collaboration, including Gozitan priests who carry out their services in some Maltese parishes, but there is always room for improvement."

 

The importance of religion and the Church

Nowadays, the amount of people attending religious functions such as Sunday mass has decreased. Asked for his opinion on whether the Church is still relevant, he explained that, "the message of Jesus Christ as well as the Gospel is fundamental not for the Church but for its people. If we bind him to the structure of the Church, we would be impoverishing Jesus Christ and doing him a great disservice because he did not come for a structure, he came for man."

Teuma expressed that he will not be the figure who convinces people not to remain secular, but Jesus Christ will convince them when they meet him. "My job is to introduce them to one another or to create a context that makes it easier for them to meet," he said.

 

 


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