A man who claims to have been sexually abused by priests in a Sta Venera orphanage is calling on Pope Benedict XVI to issue an apology.

Lawrence Grech, 37, said the Pope should use next week's trip to Malta to apologise to local victims of child abuse, just like he did to the Irish last month.

"He should recognise that these things happened in Malta, reflect about the victims' suffering and issue a formal apology," Mr Grech told The Times at the same time as the Pope was celebrating Easter Mass.

Mr Grech is one of 10 testifying behind closed doors in a case against three priests who are facing charges of child abuse. The proceedings have been going on for seven years.

Two weeks ago, the father-of-two wrote to the Vatican calling for a papal apology.

He is also calling on the Maltese Catholic Church to apologise for the suffering of orphans at the hands of priests, just like it formally apologised to child migrants who were abused when they were sent to Australia 50 years ago.

"Have they forgotten about us?" he asked.

The Catholic Church is in the middle of a sex abuse scandal in which even the Pope has been targeted.

Last week, in answer to questions by this newspaper, a spokesman for the Curia said the local Church's response team had received reports of child abuse involving 45 priests since 1999, but would not say how many of the priests investigated had been found guilty or whether any priest had been dismissed or banned from celebrating Mass and hearing confession.

Mr Grech spent his childhood in orphanages. His case had surfaced in 2003 when he claimed to have been abused by two priests at St Joseph Home, in Sta Venera, between the early 1980s and early 1990s.

Asked why he did not speak up at the time, Mr Grech said he had tried to tell a family who hosted him on weekends, but they did not believe him.

"It was just my word against his, that of a child against that of an adult," he said pensively.

Moreover, he said, the alleged abuse had become a "normal" occurrence. "It was normal for the priest to come into our room...," he said, looking at photos of himself and other boys dressed as women. The clothes, he said, were brought by one of the priests.

It was only after he moved to Australia with his wife that the repercussions of the abuse led Mr Grech to seek medical advice: "I started having erotic dreams about priests," he said.

The doctor referred him to a psychologist, who asked him whether he had been abused as a child. "I could not lie," he said.

The police started investigating in 2003 but the proceedings have dragged on. Mr Grech angrily pointed out that this case contrasts sharply with that of brothers Denis and Anthony Pandolfino, who in 2006 were jailed for 10 years for repeatedly raping and sodomising two boys they were taking care of. The two had been charged under arrest in 2002, although they were eventually granted bail.

"I am very angry and I want this case to be closed," he said, adding that this whole affair has turned him into a non-believer who only went to his daughter's Holy Communion not to create family problems.

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