The author of this guest post was known to me for some time, well before he told me he had been molested as a child by a priest. He got in touch to tell me his story after I wrote about Gozo diocese priest Joseph Bezzina on whom Catholic blogger Mark Lambert wrote this blog post a few days’ ago.
The author has shown me his correspondence with the church authorities that confirms the facts as he explains them. It opens questions on the Catholic Church’s ability to properly handle these cases, prevent their repetition and enforce prudence even in cases where further action is not possible. It also challenges again the time-barring of these cases by the time the child victim becomes an adult and builds up the strength and the courage to speak up.
Following revelations of sexual abuse by Gozitan priests and public accusations of cover-ups within the Roman Catholic Church, I felt compelled to also speak up so as to clarify a few facts because I believe that the truth is of paramount importance when seeking to achieve justice.
I am an abuse victim of Monsignor Joseph Bezzina: I was groomed for years until one day he crossed the line. I never spoke to anyone about the abuse until one day I realised that my silence would only allow more abuse to take place. So I decided to speak up.
Upon seeking legal advice I was informed that any legal suit I might bring against Monsignor Joseph Bezzina would be time-barred and not hold up in a court of law. I, therefore, sought counsel from the Bishop of Gozo, Monsignor Mario Grech who personally guided me on how I ought to pursue the case within the Catholic Church. He advised me that the only option that was open to me was to file an official report with the Maltese Church Tribunal
In 2006 the Maltese Church Tribunal found enough evidence to elevate my case to the Supreme Tribunal in Rome for investigation. What followed was a very unpleasant ordeal that went on for over ten years.
After giving evidence I was left in the dark by church authorities and when I asked questions about my case I was met with silence or received vague replies. No one seemed to be able to provide me with any satisfactory answers and the Maltese Curia referred me to Vatican authorities which were either non-responsive or referred me back to the Maltese Curia instead.
This was a never-ending torment, one almost as bad as the abuse I suffered at the hands of Monsignor Joseph Bezzina. Some progress was finally made when Monsignor Charles Scicluna was appointed Promoter of Justice at the Vatican. Bishop Grech suggested I speak directly with Monsignor Scicluna who provided me with direct — albeit dry — answers.
Yet the Vatican and the Maltese Curia never gave me any updates or enquired after my wellbeing. I had to chase them and dig hard for answers which were rarely satisfying. I can’t imagine how far someone less determined than I was could have got.
In 2010 Monsignor Bezzina was found guilty. He appealed, as was his right, and at that stage, he was acquitted for lack of evidence. The tribunal went out of its way to clarify that the decision was not evidence of Joseph Bezzina’s innocence or a reflection on the credibility of the witnesses, myself included. There just was not enough evidence for the certainty of guilt.
On that basis alone it seems prudence was thrown into the wind and Monsignor Bezzina continues to practice his profession that he used to bait me and, in proceedings I started against him I would learn, other victims as well.
I was not the only abuse victim of Monsignor Bezzina but the first one who had complained about his abuse.
I am still angry at the system and I shared my disappointment with both the Archbishop of Malta and the Bishop of Gozo since I believe that the Roman Catholic Church has a long way to go when it comes to protecting children in its care from sexual abuse. It is time that the church shifts its priority from protecting its name to protecting the victims of child abuse.
To this day I am unaware what action, if any, was taken against Monsignor Joseph Bezzina in light of the complaints about his abuse which have been received by the Curia. Bishop Grech is ultimately responsible for his flock and on such serious allegations he should be ready to lead by example to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable.
I encourage other abuse victims to speak up and report all wrongdoing for otherwise, the abuse will not stop.
I know that it takes courage to come forward and the process can be daunting. However by not speaking up you are allowing these predators to seek out new, innocent victims and perform other outrageous, vile acts.