Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sexual abuse by priests: Victims hopeful court hearings may be concluded within a year-and-a-half

Sexual abuse by priests: Victims hopeful court hearings may be concluded within a year-and-a-half
by Annaliza Borg
Malta Independent

The victims of sexual abuse by priests are hopeful that the court case against the alleged abusers will be concluded within a year-and-a-half as proceedings have gathered pace over the past months. Speaking to The Malta Independent late last week, Lawrence Grech, one of the victims, said the defence lawyers seemed to be trying to buy time, but the court is now making it clear there is no place for this. On 1 June, this newspaper quoted Mr Grech saying that the court has started to hear the case in weekly sessions rather than once every eight months. By then, the Curia Response Team, which is investigating the matter on behalf of the Church, had not interviewed the victims, though the case came to light some seven years ago.

The story was met with criticism from Joseph Sacco, registrar of the criminal courts and tribunals, who said in a letter (published on 10 June), that “from a perusal of the relevant court record it is clear that at no stage was there ever any eight-month interval or intervals between one sitting and another, not even during the periods when the presiding magistrate was seriously ill.

“Indeed, to date, more than 60 sittings have been held by the court, and simple arithmetic disproves the eight month interval assertion. Some of these sittings took several hours, and during other sittings the video-conferencing technique, which is necessarily more time-consuming than the ordinary procedure, was also used,” he said.

Yet when questioned on the matter, Mr Grech said that hearings used to be scheduled once every two or three months but were often put off (at times during two or three consecutive sessions), often because the defence lawyer could not make it. This meant that progress was registered every seven to eight months, he explained in consistency with what had been reported.

The letter had also referred to Mr Grech’s statement that it seemed “a good amount of pressure was exerted from some authority,” suggesting that this authority was the President of Malta, who had a meeting with the alleged victims of abuse before the Pope’s visit in April.

“Please be advised that at no stage was any contact made, much less any form of pressure exerted, by the President of Malta or his Office. In the instant case, as in all other cases, dates for sittings are determined by the court depending on, among other things, the nature of the case, how long it has been pending, and the myriad of other duties of the presiding magistrate or judge, as the case may be,” the letter said in conclusion.

TMI also asked Mr Grech for his views on whether the case should continue to be heard behind closed doors and whether he objected to the possibility of the case continuing in open court, for the media to be able to follow and relate developments to the public. He had no objection for this but was not sure whether the other victims, some of whose identity has not been revealed, approved. However, he pointed out that it had been defence lawyer, Giannella Caruana Curran who had requested the case to be heard behind closed doors and the request had been upheld ever since.

Meanwhile, the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Mgr Charles Scicluna, started to meet the victims in a series of separate meetings last week. A notary was in attendance to log evidence, and more meetings were planned for this week.

Mr Grech described these meetings, as “very interesting,” noting “we felt free to talk”. It was clear that Mgr. Scicluna had carried out his research very well as he was fully aware of details, he said.

“He even knew where my bedroom had been, as if he had been residing with us,” Mr Grech said.

The Curia Response Team is also meeting the victims. Although at first they had no faith in such meetings, Mgr Scicluna pointed out their importance to the victims, for the Church’s proceedings to be concluded.

“We had started to lose hope,” Mr Grech said, while expressing his renewed trust because Mgr Scicluna “knows what he is doing”. The group of men have started to feel positive again that justice will finally be done and more victims are coming out.

No comments: