Wednesday, July 21, 2010

MALTA -- New Vatican rules ‘just words’


Lawrence Grech speaking to the media the day he met Pope Benedict XVI in Malta last April. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

New Vatican rules ‘just words’

Tuesday, 20th July 2010
Claudia Calleja


A man who claims to have been abused by priests thinks the Vatican’s new rules are just “words” that do nothing to protect innocent children from abusive members of the clergy.

“The new rules do not oblige the Church to refer cases of abuse to the police... They do not make it clear and simple that a bishop or priest caught covering up for someone should he dismissed straight away,” according to Lawrence Grech.

Last Thursday, the Vatican published rules that, among others, gives its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the power to bypass its own judicial process and issue an “extrajudicial decree” against priests involved in sex abuse cases. The Congregation already had these powers but with the changes, the extrajudicial proceedings have now become an integral part of Canon Law.

Mr Grech is one of eight men who claim to have been abused by members of the clergy while living at the St Joseph Home, Sta Venera, in the 1980s and 1990s.

Three priests are undergoing court proceedings over the alleged sexual abuse that went on in the orphanage.

The allegations made seven years ago are still being investigated by the Church-appointed Response Team headed by Judge Victor Caruana Colombo.

Last week, another abuse victim said he believed the new rules were, in part, a result of the scandalous delay in their case.

Mr Grech said: “The rules are a couple of words so that the Vatican can say it is doing something since at the moment the Church is going through difficult times. They do nothing to protect the children... The Church is not being obliged to go to the police.”

The Vatican’s Promoter of Faith and Justice, Mgr Charles Scicluna, explained the new Vatican rules did not go into “reporting laws” since it left them up to the individual states. In Malta, he said, the law did not oblige the Church to report such matters to the police.

Retired Judge Caruana Colombo, who acts as the Archbishop’s special delegate on the Church’s child abuse response team, had said victims reporting abuse were informed that proceedings would be conducted according to Canon Law and they had the right to report the matter to the police.

However, he said, he did not feel obliged to refer sexual abuse cases that came before him to the police. In some cases, he had said, victims did not want to involve the police or make their suffering public.

Mr Grech would also have liked to see the new Vatican rules placing more responsibility on members of the clergy who know about abuse.

“If a priest abuses children and then goes to confess to another priest or bishop, the sin is absolved but the child-ren are left open to abuse,” he said.

On this point, Mgr Scicluna pointed out that the confessional seal was “unbreakable” irrespective of who was confessing.

In April, just before his visit to Malta, Pope Benedict XVI was targeted by the international press because his deputy had stopped a Church trial against an American priest accused of abusing some 200 deaf boys in the 1950s and 1960s, when as Cardinal Ratzinger he was a senior Vatican figure. The Vatican has denied any cover-up in this case.

During his visit to Malta, in April, the Pope met the eight alleged abuse victims, including Mr Grech, at the Apostolic Nunciature in Tal-Virtu close to Rabat. They said the meeting had given them peace in their hearts.

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