MaltaToday, 16 April 2008 | Nuns take ‘vow of silence’ on Lourdes Home abuse


NEWS | Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Nuns take ‘vow of silence’ on Lourdes Home abuse

Sabrina Agius

It seems the Dominican nuns have taken a vow of silence and are refusing to comment on the abuse that occurred at their home for destitute children in Ghajnsielem, Gozo.
MaltaToday this week knocked on the door of the Dominican Sisters’ General Home at Tal-Virtù in Rabat, Malta; but a nun who talked to us from behind the gate simply refused to answer any questions or grant us access to Mother General Karmelita Borg.
“We will not comment. The Mother General is not here and she does not want to comment on this case,” she said.
Sr Karmelita Borg, who today is responsible for the Dominican congregation, was responsible for the running of Lourdes Home at the time when the abuses took place.
MaltaToday tried contacting her by phone on Monday, but the person who answered said Sr Borg was not giving any comments. Subsequently, questions were sent by email asking what steps were being considered with regard to the nuns mentioned in the report commissioned by Gozo Bishop Mario Grech in 2006. No answer was forthcoming.
The report in question identifies two nuns, Sr Dorothy Mizzi and Sr Josephine Anne Sultana, as perpetrators of the abuse. Mizzi is today Vicar General of the congregation, while Sultana is to date still a child-carer at the home. The Gozo Curia has refused to publish the report, although Mgr Grech has since communicated with the Mother General, and steps have been taken to close the home and re-home the children elsewhere.
The atmosphere at the congregation’s general home in Rabat seems to be tense at the moment, as evidenced by an incident which took place yesterday when a MaltaToday photographer tried taking photos of the convent from the street. At one point, two highly agitated nuns rushed out of the house shouting at the photographer.
“Don’t take any pictures of the house or we shall report you to the police,” one of the nuns shouted. “Stop taking photos. Didn’t you take enough photos? If you could, you would print everything. You have no ethics! Go away. I am going report you now.”
Allegations of physical abuse on children at Lourdes Home in Ghajnsielem first surfaced in 1999, but it was some three years later that the media picked up on reports made by individual victims. Initial investigations proved inconclusive, but shortly after assuming office in 2006, Mgr Grech commissioned a second enquiry, which took two years to complete. The resulting report was issued two weeks ago, and confirmed the allegations of abuse. Mgr Grech immediately made the findings public, apologised for the scandal and asked forgiveness from the victims.
The Church commission found evidence of physical and psychological abuse, including beatings with belts and children forced to eat vomit as punishment, which occurred during the 1970s and 1980s. Further evidence has since surfaced in other sections of the media, suggesting that the abuse may have gone on until only a couple of years ago.
The Maltese Association for Social Workers (MASW) yesterday deplored “every apparent case of abuse at Lourdes Home”, while acknowledging that the home had provided care and protection for a number of children over the years.
MASW said the state should recognise among others that “incidents of abuse in out-of-home care are more likely when staff are operating unsupervised.”
The organisation said that such incidents make the need for regulating the provision of services for children in out-of-home care all the more important.

The questions MaltaToday sent Mother General Karmelita Borg via email

• Given the fact that you were an accomplice to these acts of abuse that occurred at Lourdes Home when you were its Superior General, do you feel you should still occupy your current position as Mother General?

• In your capacity as Mother General, will you be taking any action against the nuns mentioned in the report commissioned by the Gozitan Church?

• Do you feel that the whole case should be passed on to the police so that the perpetrators are brought to justice?

• Are you personally ready to go to the police?

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