The Malta Independent 22 June 2024, Saturday
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Woman, 52, in emotional plea to find who her real parents are

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 19 March 2023, 08:30 Last update: about 2 years ago

A 52-year-old woman continues her bid to find who her real parents are, hoping that they are both still alive and wishing she gets the chance to meet them, at least one time.

Rosanna Formosa Saliba says she is a Maltese citizen, but she doesn’t know who her parents are, or if she has any other relatives, maybe siblings.

Born on 18 May 1970, Rosanna told The Malta Independent on Sunday that she was placed under the care of the Lourdes home in Ghajnsielem, Gozo, a home that later was at the heart of an abuse scandal soon after the turn of the century.


On her original birth certificate, Rosanna has the name of a woman she thought was her natural birth mother. This woman used to visit her every year, Rosanna said, until she passed away. In the early years, this woman used to visit Rosanna at the orphanage but when Rosanna grew up, the girl used to visit this woman at another children’s institute, the Sacra Famiglia Home in Zabbar.

Rosanna said that she lived at the orphanage until her late 20s, when she got married. She soon gave birth to a child of her own, prompting her to make an effort to find out more information about her own parents.

But she was in for a shock, as the woman who she believed was her mother was in no way related to her. Rosanna said DNA testing proved that the woman who used to visit her was not the mother she portrayed herself to be. This also meant that this woman’s children, who Rosanna thought were her siblings, were also not part of her biological family.

Rosanna said she had been in touch with the parish church where she was baptised, where records showed that she had several siblings. But when DNA tests were carried out with some of these “siblings”, it turned out that Rosanna was in no way biologically related to them. They were brothers and sisters, but Rosanna was not one of the family.

Documents seen by The Malta Independent on Sunday showed that Rosanna had less than 2% chance of being related to any of her “presumed” natural siblings.

One of these “siblings” was also contacted by the newspaper and confirmed that there were no blood relations with Rosanna, although she was told that she was welcome to be part of their life.


The start

Rosanna had been sure that this woman was her mother. “After all, it's her name that is signed on my birth certificate". Before the DNA tests were carried out, Rosanna was able to identify the woman who she believed was her “mother” from a photo she saw on her tombstone.

Looking back, Rosanna felt that something was amiss even when she was at the orphanage. "I was always hidden away from visitors," she said.

Rosanna has fair skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair, which "was very different than my peers at the orphanage”.

Rosanna said when she did a first batch of DNA testing locally, which included the participation of some of those who she believed were her siblings, it resulted that there was no biological connection with them, which excluded the possibility that they shared the same mother.

Subsequently, she did a second test with MyHeritage DNA, an autosomal DNA test for genetic genealogy. It can identify ancestors by comparing a person to the many other MyHeritage users who have tested their DNA. A percentage-based ethnicity breakdown based on 42 ethnic regions from across the world is also provided with this test. These results showed that 53.3% of Rosanna’s genetic components were northern and western European, 17.5% were classified as Sephardic Jewish-North African, 15.5% Iberian, 7.4% Ashkenazi Jewish and 6.3% Middle Eastern.

From the MyHeritage DNA result “it shows that I have no close Maltese blood relatives" she said.


Lack of records

One of the first steps Rosanna took to uncover more details was to ask for more information regarding her birth from “supposedly” available records.

However, she was dismayed as the new Gozo General Hospital could not give her access to them.

Consequently, in 2001, she filed a complaint against the Gozo General Hospital before then Ombudsman Joe Sammut with the help of her lawyer, the late Michael Grech.

The response given later by the same Ombudsman was not what she was expecting, as she was told that no documents had been found about her.

"From the investigation that was carried out, it results that the Superintendent of the hospital tried to look for the relative medical records about your birth, but he did not find them,” she was told. “He informed your lawyer about this fact on 26 July 2001. Since the lawyer expressed doubt on how these records could be lost, he asked for further verifications and any information about your birth. As the register still existed in which the records of births in those years (years including 1970, when Rosanna was born) were kept, I was given the details about the date and your mother's name (the woman written as her ‘birth mother’ on her birth certificate)."

He added that since Rosanna was asking for birth records that date back to 1970, they were not "kept in the same way as today's system, that is, with the Identity Card number".

"In the present system, only one record is kept… Sometimes problems still arise, (but one record makes it) easier to find medical records. On the other hand, the records at that time (of Rosanna's birth) were kept under a different system and were not retained in a folder. In addition, the birth occurred in the old hospital before the new one was built. The records, therefore, had to be transported from one hospital to another, and no one can say exactly what happened. In addition, the Ombudsman is precluded by law from investigating the loss of files before 1995," the letter from the Ombudsman continued.

The complaint filed by Rosanna contained both ethical and legal aspects, the Ombudsman said.

“Today it is recognised that it is a patient's right to have access to their medical records but also has the right to confidentiality.”

“There is therefore the obligation of the hospital authorities to protect confidentiality,” the letter continued.

On a general note, the Ombudsman said that when it comes to maternity records the hospital is obliged not to reveal any information to anyone else other than the mother.

Additionally, he also said that there might however be “some separate records of the baby, indicative of its progress during the first few days spent in hospital”, adding that although Rosanna has a legal right to such documents, they cannot be provided because “these records were not found”.

The Ombudsman concluded that under such circumstances he did not consider that the authorities of the Gozo General Hospital had been unjust to Rosanna.

Rosanna did not give up. But when she sought more information from the Gozo Hospital, she was told that the medical records of both her mother and her had not been found and the only information she was given was that there had been a birth. In a later letter, she was told that the only information that could be provided to her was that the person she thought was her mother gave birth to a daughter in 1970, detailing the date and the time, matching the date and time of Rosanna’s birth.


Life at Lourdes Home

Rosanna didn't have an average childhood; on the contrary, she said that she suffered abuse when she was at the Lourdes Home.

Rosanna said she and others in 2021 wrote to Pope Francis to “outline some of the horrendous acts which were inflicted upon some of the unfortunate orphans”.

Like some other children present at the home with her, Rosanna said she was also physically abused. “I endured beatings, penances, a very inhumane and severe discipline,” she said.

She said that as she grew up and matured, she kept in contact with another former orphan at the home, and said that together they realised that the day-to-day suffering in adulthood could be linked back to those days.

“In 2006, with some pressure from other orphans who had stayed at the Home, then Gozo Bishop Mario Grech decided to take us seriously and opened an inquiry,” she said.

Bishop Grech had appointed a Commission to investigate allegations of physical and psychological abuse of underage children in Church homes in Gozo.

This was the second Commission that looked into the issue. The first Commission had been set up by former Bishop Nikol Cauchi in 1999, but an article about the summary of that report published by The Malta Independent on Sunday in April 2006 read that the panel concluded that some punishments meted out at the Home, including corporal punishment, might seem to be too drastic at the time the report was drawn up, but when they had happened, such action was common not just in children’s homes, but also in family homes both in Malta and abroad.

The second Commission, appointed by Bishop Grech, was comprised of Judge Victor Caruana Colombo as chairman, lawyer Dr Ruth Farrugia, psychologist Dr Angela Abela and Mgr Fortunato Mizzi. In April of 2008, Bishop Grech asked for forgiveness from the children who had made the allegations of abuse, after the second Commission investigating the claims found that “inadmissible behaviour involving minors” had taken place.

The statement had not specified what was described as “inadmissible behaviour”.

Bishop Grech praised the work of the sisters “done with great love and dedication – during its long history of hundreds of children and their families”. However, the bishop asked for forgiveness from all those “who have suffered because of this behaviour... I must show my sorrow for all that was of detriment to these children”.

The Home was closed in 2008.

In her 2021 letter to the Pope, Rosanna wrote “I am a 50-year-old married woman, but I am still looking for answers and justice. I am having sessions with a psychologist to try to help. I'm asking for your help, Your Holiness! I cannot find it within myself to forgive them," she said.

"I am still suffering from the consequences of the type of childhood I went through," she said in comments to this newspaper.


Search for parents

Turning back to her not knowing who her birth parents are, she said that the government has to take action immediately when such cases come to light, she said.

She said that “when the government gets to know about cases like mine, they should be fully committed to bringing justice”.

Rosanna hopes to unearth more information about her parents. She wants to be given the chance to meet them and she has not lost hope that one day it will happen.

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