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OPINION | Wednesday, 09 April 2008

Suffer the little children

PAMELA HANSEN

Abuse of any kind is despicable, more so when the victims are children and the perpetrators are adults who portray themselves as pious, having given up a worldly life to perform God’s work.
An unpublished report last week confirmed to the Church that “In some particular cases there had been inadmissible behaviour involving minors that should have never taken place” in a home run by Dominican nuns.
The Bishop of Gozo, Mario Grech, finally got the results of the study commissioned nearly two years ago, when he had hoped the commission’s findings would have been presented within two months. Suffer the children.
From the little released, I found the choice of the word ‘inadmissible’ as strange, since inadmissible usually means not allowable in a court of law. I believe that the abuse here goes beyond that description. Is this a form of watering down? We already had the stretched-out wait.
But then again we can only speculate because the report has not been made available. What are we not allowed to know? Is it that shocking that it has to be hidden from public scrutiny? Or do the findings show up how things were swept under the carpet? Well we know the latter now anyway.
The lack of information will only fuel conjecture. As things stand we do not know whether overworked, unsupported nuns, who could not handle sometimes-difficult children, used violent means to discipline them due to tremendous pressure, sadistic tendencies or frustration.
What training, in dealing with the particular problems of children in care, has been available to the nuns? Are they vetted to assess their patience and tolerance levels, hence their suitability for the job?
The truth is these were forgotten children who nobody seemed to want to care for and the nuns seemed to fill the gap.
But will the failings that allowed the abuse be addressed? We do not really know since the recommendations by the commission have also not been published.
But we were told that their premise revolved around the fact that whoever is found guilty of abusing a person, particularly a child, will be prohibited from working in this sphere.
Talk about the obvious! But as far as we know the people responsible for the abuse are still working in the sphere, and at least they were since 1999 when the abuse first came to light.
We were told that the recommendations would “ensure such abuses never happen again” and that the Bishop has instructed the Superior General of the Dominican Sisters to implement the proposals.
Is this the same superior who has been responsible since 1999, when the problem first surfaced, or even before that?
I am sorry to be cynical, but considering the history of this saga we need to know how it is going to be ensured that such abuses will never happen again. Giving assurances without telling us how the recommendations will be implemented, let alone what the recommendations actually suggest, is medieval.
Had the institution been monitored since and had the nuns received any form of evaluation in their capacity as child carers? We don’t know.
We know there was an internal board of inquiry commissioned by the then Gozo Bishop, Nikol Cauchi, which now suggests it was a whitewash since according to that report the allegations were not substantiated.
How can the people who held the inquiry in 1999 sleep nights, when they know they covered up behaviour, which was damaging to children in care? Or were they so prejudiced in their views that they could not accept the unsavoury truth?
Whatever the reason, these people (I do not wish to know their names, this is not a witch hunt) should never again be trusted with such an appointment.
In the meantime, how were the children faring for the next seven years, until the incoming new Bishop of Gozo, Mario Grech, reopened the case in April 2006?
Monsignor Grech set up the commission chaired by Judge Victor Caruana Colombo to investigate allegations of physical and psychological abuse perpetrated on minors during their stay at Lourdes House. He diplomatically said at the time he appointed the commission that there was “a possibility that whoever was making the allegations was not heard”, or that there could be “fresh information”.
But even the results of the commission’s findings took a long time coming, although at least they seem to have been briefed to dig deeper for the truth.
Bishop Mario Grech publicly asked for forgiveness from those who were abused as children while in the care of the Dominican nuns at the Lourdes Home in Gozo, when he got the report last week.
“I have to show my sorrow for all that was of detriment to these children. I ask forgiveness from those who have suffered because of this behaviour,” said his press statement.
His apology is for the Church not having admitted until now that the abuse had taken place. Now that it has, he said the Church would help those who suffered through “unwarranted behaviour” through a “healing process”.
“I have already appointed a team of experts who will accompany these persons through this process. I have also made contact with the persons involved and will be closely following the case, ” said the Monsignor.
It is encouraging to see that the people, who are probably still having problems coming to terms with their abuse, will be getting help, even if belatedly. It also is important that the perpetrators will also be getting help.
However, a very important fact to come to the fore on child abuse is that due to “prescription”, abusers cannot be held to account in the courts.
It is well documented that it is usually when the children reach adulthood that they confront their demons, so why on earth have are our courts of so-called justice not removed this ridiculous time bar?

pamelapacehansen@gmail.com



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