Watch: Safeguarding Commission: Only transparency and accountability will empower victims of abuse

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Only transparency and accountability will empower victims of abuse, the Safeguarding Commission said on Thursday.

The commission presented its annual report in a press conference addressed by chairperson Andrew Azzopardi and deputy chairperson Rev. Antoine Farrugia S.D.B. It was held at St Julian’s parish centre.

Miguela Xuereb

During the presentation of the report, Azzopardi explained that the experience of the Church over the past few years has shown that the only way to support and empower victims of abuse is by facing this scourge in a transparent way.

Azzopardi started off by thanking those victims who found the courage to come forward. He acknowledged that this is very difficult for the victims to take such steps. He also thanked the Church entities who work in the field.

Azzopardi also reiterated the need for a centralised authority through which information is shared between organisations about people who may pose a risk to children and vulnerable adults.

Policy revision

Over the last two years, the Safeguarding Commission conducted a review of the Church’s safeguarding policy, Azzopardi said.

He explained that this follows a thorough consultation with victims, service users of various Church entities, statutory agencies and key stakeholders: the Commissioner for Mental Health, the Directorate for Child Protection, the Malta Police Force, the Office of the Commissioner for Children, and the Social Care Standards Authority.

The policy is set to be published next year.

Replying to a question by Newsbook.com.mt on the subject, Azzopardi explained that a safeguarding policy needs to be a living document which reflects the needs and developments in society. This means that the policy needs to be revised every few years and best practices shows that they should be revised every three to five years.

The revision was also motivated by two important development – the enactment of the Minor Protection Act and Pope Francis’ Vos estis lux mundi (You are the light of the world) establishes new procedural rules to combat abuse. Azzopardi explained that the Minor Protection Act includes mandatory reporting which has not entered into force yet. He highlighted that the revised policy should reflect these two important developments to ensure that it is in line with the laws of the Church and the State.

Church imposes restrictions on five individuals

The Church imposed a restriction on four persons in 2018 and a restriction on a person in 2019 in line with the recommendations given by the Safeguarding Commission.

The cases which were referred to civil authorities involved diocesan priests, religious priests, and lay persons, where an allegation of sexual abuse was substantiated.

Another three restrictions were imposed on persons who faced allegations of physical and emotional abuse and poor practice.

The head of the Safeguarding Commission, Andrew Azzopardi, explained that the Church is proactive in reporting cases to the police or social services ensuring that allegations of abuse are investigated by the competent civil authority.

In 2018, the Safeguarding Commission received 19 new allegations involving minors and 10 involving vulnerable adults.

The Commission concluded 17 assessments involving minors. Out of these, six were substantiated, one was a matter of poor practice, four were unfounded, two were unsubstantiated, one involved someone who was not Church personnel, and three were referred to a third party as they were not a safeguarding concern.

The Commission concluded 10 assessments involving vulnerable adults out of which seven were referred to third parties as they were not a safeguarding concern, one was unsubstantiated, one was unfounded and one involved poor practice.

In 2019, 16 new allegations were received involving minors and eight involving vulnerable adults.

The Safeguarding Commission concluded eight assessments involving minors, out of which two were substantiated, two were unsubstantiated and one was not Church personnel. One more complaint involved someone who was deceased and two involved complaints where it was not possible to identify the person concerned due to lack of information.

The Commission concluded three assessments involving vulnerable adults of which two were unsubstantiated and one was unfounded.

966 individuals received safeguarding training

Miguela Xuereb

A total of 966 teachers, catechists, priests, religious, seminarians, and volunteers were trained in 2018 and 2019. The Commission provides safeguarding training for Church personnel. The Commission also verified that 4,451 people received clearance to work with minors.

Rev. Farrugia said that a new Certificate in Safeguarding of Children and Young People offered by the University of Malta commenced in October 2020.

“The Safeguarding Commission spearheaded this initiative in order to continue to build a positive safeguarding culture in society,” he said.

This university course is offered by the Faculty of Theology and the Faculty for Social Wellbeing in collaboration with the Safeguarding Commission.

Video: Miguela Xuereb