The Malta Independent 30 May 2024, Thursday
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Court hears horrific testimony by Lourdes Home survivors

Monday, 15 January 2024, 15:59 Last update: about 5 months ago

Two women who had lived in a Church-run orphanage (the Lourdes Home in Gozo) decades ago, have described harrowing experiences of sexual abuse by clergy and savage beatings from nuns in court.

The two women testified on Monday in a Constitutional case against the State presided over by Judge Mark Simiana, in which they claim the State had done nothing to safeguard their rights or care at the orphanage.

First to testify was Rosanne Saliba, who gave her account of a number of shocking incidents from her childhood at the institute. She said that no abuse had taken place until she turned five, "but when I turned six, my life changed from heaven to hell."

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Saliba told the court that she had tried to be heard so that justice would be done.

"The sisters changed, sister Josephine Anne Sultana passed away, she was a very bad nun, I describe her as a monster and this was the sister who was supposed to take care of me. I really suffered with this sister. We used to get up at 5:30am, and before going down to Mass, she would make me clean the bathroom. After Mass we used to go to school. At school we used to rest a little from the abuse. I remember that after we returned from school, she would be behind the door ready with a stick in her hand and if you had your uniform on - prepare yourself for a beating."

The witness said there had been 50 children in total, divided into groups with two nuns allocated to each group. They were under a strict timetable, which included all kinds of cleaning.

She said that she had occasionally been beaten for no reason. "I once suffered a big injury, so much that I ended up with a black eye. When she found out that I had told someone about this, as soon as we went back to the institute, she prepared a room with two tables for me, the worst possible mattress and locked me in this room for three days. I was only ten years old."

A priest would regularly visit to administer the sacrament of penance, she recalled. On one occasion, when she had gone to confession the priest had exposed himself and forced her to touch his genitals, laughing at the terrified girl, the court heard. "He even tried to touch me. If you gave him a chance, every time we went to confession, he would do the same to us. I was a quiet girl and held back a lot. The sister was constantly beating me and insulting me."

Things got so bad that the girl stopped eating. "I got so depressed that I was asking Jesus to end my life," she said. A nun had noticed that she wasn't eating, and after speaking to the Mother Superior Karmeli Borg, Saliba was taken to see a family doctor.

After examining the child, he told the Mother Superior that there was nothing wrong with the girl but that there was something troubling her. Saliba told the court that she had been terrified of the prospect of having to tell him what was happening to her.

No doctor ever set foot inside the home, she said. One of the nuns would administer vaccinations when the children were sick with fever.

The nuns would slap the girls on the head when they got stuck on their homework questions. "Instead of using kindness and explaining to us how to answer, she would beat us viciously."

The nun would "lose herself" in her rage while beating the children, said the woman. "She would turn a fiery red, grab us by our hair and hit us as hard as she could."

Victim told her mother was dead after two years

"One of the severe abuses that I kept remembering, I needed the pink card to bring some medicine from the hospital. When I went with this paper, the nurse asked me why I am bringing all these medicines and I told him that I don't keep this pink paper and that I don't usually carry medicine."

"I ended up going to a psychologist. The sister had made me feel worthless. She would insult me because of my glasses and to date I don't even want to look at them. One day, I had been washing the corridors at the orphanage. The door opened and Sister Dorothy Mizzi emerged. She asked me why my biological mother had not phoned me for a long time."

"I replied that I didn't know, because it wasn't us children who would answer the phone. She went to ask Mother Superior and when she returned, she told me 'your mother has been dead for two years.'"

In 2002, Spiteri had spoken to Fr. Emanuel Cordina, at the time the Director of Oasi, together with lawyer Michael Grech, after she wrote to the Ombudsman to say that the Gozo hospital authorities had refused to show Spiteri her medical file.

The hospital superintendent had tried to locate her birth records but had found nothing. "In 2006, I decided to go look for myself and I managed to find my siblings, from the same mother who would call me. Her siblings did not know about her.

The nuns had never wanted to give Spiteri information about her birth family, she recalled.

"When I was going to get married in 1998, the Mother Superior of that time, Dorothy Mizzi, sent for my husband and asked him whether I still wanted to find out who my brothers and sisters were. My husband answered that I didn't and Sister Dorothy replied "Good, and don't let her look for them because she will cause a lot of trouble."

A second witness, Carmen Muscat, also testified.

Today 51-years-old, Muscat had ended up in the Gozo orphanage at a young age, together with her siblings, whom she had no idea were related to her because they had different surnames.

She told the judge that as she started to grow up, she did not have a boyfriend. "So, Sister Josephine brought a priest so that I can experience feelings and be attracted to men. She would take me down alone with the priest in the Bishop's hall, which is part of Lourdes Home. They would force me to touch myself to get turned on and start having feelings for men."

This happened on four separate occasions, she said. She, too, testified to being subjected to indecent exposure by the priest during confession. "Although I knew these things weren't supposed to happen, I didn't know if it was a bad thing that he wasn't supposed to do."

Besides taking care of younger children, part of her duties at the orphanage was to empty the contents of pill capsules into the toilet, she said.

Muscat also recalled the beatings, telling the court that one dark-skinned boy would be beaten so much that purple bruises would still be seen on his person. "Another girl that had been with us at the orphanage, one time, sister Josephine put her hand in the clothes dryer roller." Musat was never allowed to see her parents, unlike some of the other children, the court heard.

Years after leaving the orphanage, she and other survivors had written to Bishop Nikol Cauchi about the abuse they had suffered there and also discussed it on a TV program.

"In 2006, the Curia launched an inquiry. In 2008, Bishop Emeritus Mario Grech asked for forgiveness, and in 2011, I found out from the newspapers that Sister Josephine had been arraigned in court over some abuses, but nothing further was done.

Muscat said that a newspaper had published an investigation that had found around 85 cases of abuse at Lourdes Home. "In 2020, I spoke to the new Bishop, and we discovered that the files and documents had all been destroyed."

"Time passed and the case was raised on Bondi +. From that programme we found out that the case that had been entrusted to Nikol Cauchi had been closed and that the allegations had been ruled to be baseless. Two years later, Bishop Emeritus (now Cardinal) Mario Grech sent us a press release. The document asked for forgiveness and offered assistance through various services."

The case will continue in March.


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