Judge presiding over clerical abuse case is Radju Marija president
The judge presiding over the civil court case involving the sexual abuse of boys by priests at St Joseph Home in the late 1980s, Mr Justice Joseph Micallef, also happens to be the president of Radju Marija, a radio station which is strongly associated with the Church, although the Church is not directly involved.
Given the doubts raised by the connection to the Church, the lawyer of the victims has now requested that the judge abstains from the case, and a decision is yet to be taken by the court.
According to the local code of organisation and civil procedures, a judge can be challenged from sitting in a case if he is related by consanguinity or affinity in a direct line to any of the parties. He can also be challenged if he is the tutor, curator, or presumptive heir of any of the parties; if he is or has been the agent of any of the parties to the suit or if he is the administrator of any establishment or partnership involved in the suit.
Despite the fact that Radju Marija is not led by the church – the lawyers are concerned that there is a conflict of interest.
Radio stations transmitting religious content, such as Radju Marija, need to first be approved by the Church. The radio station is transmitted from the Dominican Friars Convent in Rabat, and up until a few months ago, it was directed by Fr Charles Fenech, who is now facing charges of sexual abuse in court. Radju Marija is a civil and private not-for-profit organisation, however it is operated by priests, religious and lay people.
Victims reiterate call for case to be heard in the open
Meanwhile, the case is still being heard behind closed doors, despite calls by the victims’ lawyer for it to be open to the public. One of the victims, Lawrence Grech, told The Malta Independent on Sunday yesterday that journalists should be allowed in the courtroom when key protagonists are testifying – such as former archbishop Paul Cremona, and the directors of the Missionary Society of St Paul (MSSP) and St Joseph’s Home. All requests have so far been rejected by the court, and members of the press were ushered out of the courtroom when former archbishop Mgr Paul Cremona took the witness stand.
“I don’t think the case proceedings are being held in a fair manner. We’ve repeatedly said that the public has a right to be informed, where the Church is involved, and should be given details of Church leaders’ testimony,” Mr Grech said. In addition, he claimed that the court refused to hand over a copy of Mgr Cremona’s testimony when Mr Grech’s lawyer asked for it.
Victims offered antidepressants as ‘support’
Following the outcry when the story first came to light, the Church publicly apologized and said that it will offer support to victims involved. However, the only help the victims got was a prescription for an antidepressant, Flouxetine. Other than that, the victims have not received any form of support from representatives of the Church.
“Despite the publicity stunt, we’ve never been offered any help. We’ve had to ask for it,” Mr Grech told this newspaper.
In 2014, Mr Grech and another victim visited the Curia to seek help. Following a brief half-hour meeting with a psychiatrist, psychologist and social worker, the victims were instructed to attend regular sessions with professionals, which would be paid for by the Church. However, the victims now claim that this had done more harm than good.
“I’ve had to speak about my experiences over and over again with the psychiatrists, and it was heartbreakingly painful, as well as embarrassing. This is not the way the Church should right its wrongs. The only thing we are looking for is love, from those who have hurt us. Only then will we get closure. Instead, we get the cold shoulder from priests we grew up with. These people were the only family we had,” another victim speaking with this newspaper said.
A day after two priests were given a prison sentence after being found guilty of sexual abuse, the Church of Malta issued a formal apology. However, the victims are still awaiting an apology from those who carried out the criminal actions.
Actions speak louder than words, Grech says of new abuse commission
On Thursday, a commission set up by the Church to safeguard the interests of vulnerable adults and children was launched. The commission will seek to ensure that adults working in Catholic institutions do not pose a risk to the children they work with. It is responsible for investigating cases of alleged abuse and assisting the police in their inquiries. Addressing journalists, Apostolic Administrator Charles Scicluna said the Church will be offering support for victims of such cases.
However, Mr Grech is not convinced, following his own personal experience. “Actions speak louder than words. There’s always some form of commission or response team being set up, but we’ve never received the help we’ve sought over the years. We would greatly appreciate any support the Church can offer us,” Mr Grech said. ” The Bible says that a shepherd who has a hundred sheep should leave the ninety-nine in open pasture and look for the one which is lost until he finds it,” he added.