Clerical victims prepared to take case to European Court
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Clerical victims prepared to take case to European Court

Curia fails to respond to questions

Lawrence Grech addressing the press after the victims’ first meeting with Curia officials. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Lawrence Grech addressing the press after the victims’ first meeting with Curia officials. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The victims of clerical sex abuse are prepared to resort to the European Court of Human Rights if the local courts dismiss their claims for compensation from the Church.

I fear this decision was taken to dissuade other victims from speaking out

“We’re not going to stop here,” Lawrence Grech told The Sunday Times, eight days after the Church said it bore no legal responsibility for sexual crimes committed at a Sta Venera orphanage by two priests on 11 boys, now adults.

The two convicted priests, sentenced to a total of 11 years’ imprisonment and currently on bail, are appealing against their convictions.

Mr Grech and Joe Magro, another of the victims, said the group intended suing the Church for moral damages and – should they lose – would turn to the Strasbourg court.

Mr Grech insisted that during the first meeting between the Curia and the victims, Archbishop Paul Cremona had told lawyer Patrick Valentino to say how much was being claimed in compensation.

“Our lawyer left it up to the Curia to name a figure. At that point, the Archbishop made it clear he wanted to cooperate,” Mr Grech claimed.

However, in a surprise statement issued on September 22 the Curia said it had been given legal advice that “... in this particular case, (the Church) as an institution, does not have any legal responsibility for what was perpetrated by some individuals and that she (the Church) cannot take upon herself such responsibility.”

Instead, the Church said it would set up a structure that would include psychiatric, psychological and social professionals to provide the necessary help.

This fell short of the request made by the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, Mgr Charles Scicluna, whom it is claimed encouraged the victims’ lawyer, Patrick Valentino, to de­mand compensation.

Mr Grech described the Archbishop as a humble man who clearly wanted to help, but pointed at the people “around him” who stopped him doing the right thing.

Mr Magro said an additional lawyer has now been engaged to support Dr Valentino.

“What we are seeing is a gross injustice. We were first sexually abused, then faced delays of years until our case was decided, and now all we’ve got is an apology from the Church,” Mr Magro protested.

The Curia had a lot to answer for, including the fact that one of the sentenced priests was put in charge of a children’s home in Malta after fleeing similar charges of abuse in Canada, he added.

“The Church worldwide has given compensation to every victim of clerical abuse. Why not Malta? I fear this decision was taken to dissuade other victims from speaking out,” Mr Magro said.

Asked to respond to accusations that the victims were being perceived as gold-diggers, and losing public sympathy in the process, Mr Grech replied: “I ask these same critics – what would they do if they were in my shoes?

“If we just accept the Curia’s statement we’d have lost the battle. People ask for compensation even when they’re involved in an accident.

“Why shouldn’t we have that same right when the court established we suffered abuse which scarred us for life? I have a wife and children. Do you think it was easy for me to appear on TV and talk about my case? We’re being treated like garbage.”

Questions sent to the Curia last Thursday remained unanswered. Among others, the Curia was asked to reply to criticism that it was ignoring its moral obligation to award compensation to the victims, even if not legally bound to do so.

hgrech@timesofmalta.com

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