The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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Safeguarding Commission concluded 26 cases of abuse by church personnel, 8 were substantiated

Semira Abbas Shalan Friday, 21 June 2024, 12:58 Last update: about 25 days ago

The Safeguarding Commission within the Archdiocese of Malta has concluded 26 cases, and substantiated eight - half of which are historical cases, involving abuse committed by church personnel on minors and vulnerable adults, the Head of Safeguarding Mark Pellicano said.

Addressing a press conference which reviewed the year, Pellicano, along with Fr Antoine Farrugia and psychologist Dr Roberta Attard, presented the annual report on cases of referrals received on abuse of power, and sexual, emotional abuse committed by church personnel, which included nuns/religious and diocesan priests, and laypersons, or anyone involved in the Church.

In 2023, the Commission received 36 referrals, out of which 19 cases were related to victims who were minors (meaning under the age of 18 under Canon law) at the time of the alleged abuse, while 17 cases involved adults who claimed to be in a vulnerable position at the time of the alleged abuse, Pellicano said.

Seven of the 36 referrals were historical cases, referring to allegations allegedly having taken place more than 10 years ago, including four vulnerable adults and three minors, who were alleged victims.

Of the 19 referrals involving minors, four involved nuns/religious priests, while 15 involved laypersons. Among the 17 cases involving vulnerable adults, four involved diocesan priests, eight involved religious priests, and five involved laypersons, Pellicano explained.

Pellicano said that out of the Commission’s 26 concluded cases, 18 cases involved minors, and four of those were found to be substantiated, one was found to be partially substantiated, and another case was unsubstantiated.

One of the cases was not a safeguarding concern and three cases were investigated internally by the organisation concerned. Two of the cases were referred to the personal Bishop of the subjects of complaint out of Malta, while another six required no further action, he said.

Nine of the cases involving minors were historical cases. Pellicano said that four of the subjects of complaint in cases involving minors were diocesan priests, seven were religious priests, and seven were laypersons.

With regards to the eight cases involving vulnerable adults, four were found to be substantiated. One case was not a safeguarding concern and another case was referred to the subject of complaint’s Bishop out of Malta. Pellicano continued that a further two cases required no further action.

Four of these eight cases involving vulnerable adults were historical cases. The subjects of complaint involved two diocesan priests, two religious priests and four were laypersons.

Pellicano said that in the four substantiated cases involving minors, two of the subjects of complaint were diocesan priests, one of the cases involving sexual abuse, emotional manipulation and a breach of professional boundaries. 

The victim was an adult at the time of referral, and it was referred to civil authorities, such as police.

Another case involved sexual abuse, and the Commission recommended restriction from the public ministry in both cases. This case was not referred to civil authorities, and while the Commission offered for the victim be accompanied to the police, the victim did not want to report. Pellicano explained that in such circumstances, reasons could differ, but some victims in question simply felt the need for their story to be heard.

The two substantiated cases involving laypersons involved sexual abuse and sexual harassment respectively. Pellicano said that a restriction was recommended in both cases, the two victims were not adults at the time of the referral, and the laypersons were referred to civil authorities as obliged, since the victims were minors.

Pellicano explained that the four substantiated cases involving vulnerable adults involved two subjects of complaint who were religious nuns/priests, one of which involved a breach of sexual boundaries, which did not merit a referral as no crime was committed, while another involved sexual abuse, which was not referred as the victim did not want to report.

The other two cases involving laypersons involved sexual abuse and a breach of professional boundaries respectively. The victim did not want to report in the former, while the latter case did not merit a referral as there was no crime committed, Pellicano said.

Out of the total 26 assessments, eight cases involving either minors or vulnerable adults were substantiated, one was partially substantiated, and another was unsubstantiated. Pellicano said that out of the total assessments, two cases was not a safeguarding concern, three were investigated internally by a concerned organisation, three were referred to personal Bishops abroad, and eight where no further action was required.

Pellicano said that the Safeguarding Commission received two additional referrals in 2023, concerning two religious priests from different Orders. One of the allegation was of emotional abuse involving a religious parish priest towards minors and adults, which was investigated by the respective Provincial.

Another of the allegations involved text messages of sexual nature sent to a parishioner by a religious priest, which was investigated by the generalate in Rome.

Pellicano said that the Commission primarily focuses on creating a culture of prevention of abuse within the Church, works with victims and secondary victims of abuse, conducts preliminary investigations and risk assessments, and works impartially and autonomously through various professionals in the field, coming from a background of social work and psychology. 

The Prevention and Training team within the Safeguarding Office aims to raise awareness, and delivered 22 training sessions to more than 1,300 Church personnel, including volunteers, as well as lectures at the University of Malta, he said.

It also submitted 115 applications to the Court to establish whether individuals about to be entrusted with a position in the Church’s structures were listed on the Offenders’ Register.

The applications covered a total of 5,589 Church personnel, including a list of names of each. The team also vetted 26 applications for clergymen making temporary visits to Malta to carry out pastoral work, ensuring they had no history of safeguarding issues within their ministry.

Several campaigns of awareness about safeguarding were carried out, Pellicano said, adding that it also issued posters on four important points; which is to listen, observe, ask and report on any allegation. The campaign is also being promoted on social media platforms.

Pellicano also said the Commission works with victims in providing a welcoming environment, psychological help, accompany them to Court or the police, provide support and medical aid, as well as work with secondary victims.

He said that the subjects of complaint, those who are being investigated for alleged abuse, would also be given help and support from a victim-centred approach by the Provincial in question – not directly by the Commission, to prevent more potential victims.

The Review Board also gives an opportunity for the Provincial in charge of where the abuse allegedly occurred to submit the report, investigated by the Safeguarding Commission’s teams, for a final confirmation of the work done, ensuring impartiality, separation of powers, and serve to remain accountable.

Pellicano explained that such cases involve an imbalance of power by the person who was entrusted to carry out their role in the name of the Church, and the person (victim) who was supposed to be receiving a service from that role.

He said that while it has a positive, ongoing communication with the police, and Child Protection, cases at the Commission are investigated on the basis of whether there is a risk, and the police does not necessarily follow up on all reports.

Pellicano also said that the Commission aims to revise its policy and issue it later this year, as well as plans to relocate in a new environment away from the Archdiocese, to encourage more people to come forward on abuse committed by someone form the same entity.

Fr Farrugia said that the Commission’s function is one of prevention and awareness at different levels, which can prepare people in society to recognise abuse and report it. “Every complaint is one too many,” Farrugia said, adding that the aim is to prevent victims.

Dr Attard said that society must observe, listen, and encourage another person to speak up when there is an imbalance of power and vulnerability. She said that victims find it difficult to talk as they would be going through a victimisation process, and the Commission supports them in this manner.

She explained that the Commission developed and now has more resources than before, with professionals looking at cases through a psychosocial lens.

If you have suffered some form of abuse within the Church, or any related concern, the Safeguarding Commission urges you to contact either via their website, email at [email protected] or call at 22470950.

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