Tears in Malta: "After 25 years, now I can go back to church"
Pope Benedict greets the faithful in Floriana, Malta
by Richard Owen in Valletta
Pope Benedict XVI shed tears yesterday as he met victims of clerical sex abuse in Malta, expressing his "shame and sorrow" and promising "effective measures" to protect young people in future.
It was the first time the Pope had met abuse victims since the worldwide scandal engulfed the Roman Catholic Church, and it marked his most forceful statement on the matter since a letter to the faithful in Ireland at Easter.
The eight victims, who were abused systematically at St Joseph’s orphanage in the town of Santa Venera in the 1980s and 1990s, have long campaigned for the Church to recognise their suffering after decades of cover-ups.
"He prayed with them and assured them that the Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse, and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future," the Vatican said after the meeting, on the second day of the Pope’s visit to the island.
"I am now trying to regain my faith," Joseph Magro, 38, one of the victims who attended the 20-minute meeting, told The Times.
He said the victims, who were able to speak to the Pope individually, had "hoped but not expected" to meet the pontiff. "It was thanks in part to media pressure," he said.
Mr Magro said he was molested daily at the orphanage by a priest who is now banned from saying Mass but still at liberty at a monastery close to the Apostolic Nunciature — the Vatican’s embassy — at Rabat, where yesterday’s meeting took place.
He said he had asked the Pope why the priest had abused him. "I could see the pain in his eyes. He said he did not know. He said the priest had betrayed his vows before God. We still want justice," Mr Magro added, noting that both legal and Church proceedings against the priests involved in the abuse had been going on for seven years. Lawrence Grech, 37, who acts as spokesman for the eight, said that the meeting had provided "peace in our hearts".