At a press briefing this morning, the Holy See’s press office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, responded to questions about the Pope’s pending visit to Malta. During the meeting, the Vatican spokesman stated that it was still to be determined as to whether the Pope would meet with victims of clerical sexual abuse.
Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic visit to the island of Malta will take place from April 17-18, 2010. The visit commemorates the 1,950th anniversary of St. Paul’s shipwreck on the same island. Consequently, Malta is an island that has a large Catholic population and a deeply Catholic culture.
Fr. Lombardi could neither confirm nor deny if the Pope would meet with victims of clerical sexual abuse as he has done during previous papal visits. According to Fr. Lombardi, his uncertainty about a possible meeting is due to the fact that “the time is very short, and the program really intense.”
“The Pope has met many people, and in this respect, he is going on being available for that, but always in an atmosphere of meditation and discretion, not under the pressure of mass media; he wants to be able to listen to the people and to communicate with them personally,” Lombardi added.
The Vatican spokesman also confirmed that His Holiness “is preparing for this journey with serenity” and that “there is no special concern” about potential demonstrations by victims of clerical sexual abuse. “In a country such as Malta, with a tradition in which the Church is constantly present, if there are demonstrations, they will be made by a small minority,” he said.
The Archdiocese of Malta announced on April 13 that Archbishop Paul Cremona will be meeting with Mr. Lawrence Grech and other alleged victims of sexual abuse. Since the creation of a Church Response Team 11 years ago, 45 allegations of clerical sexual abuse dating back to the 1970s have been reported. Nineteen of those allegations have been shown to have no basis and another 13 are currently in court. The allegations pertain to 13 priests, two of whom have passed away.
Journalists also asked Fr. Lombardi if the Vatican felt “under siege” by the media in recent weeks, to which he responded that he did not feel “in a state of siege; and I did not express this kind of attitude.”