Amid a carnival-like atmosphere and very bad music (see video above) Pope Benedict XVI arrived Saturday on the island of Malta, one of the most devout states within the European Union. The island, located south of Italian Sicily, is part of the Euro-zone yet is also the only country left where divorce is not part of the legal system
, let alone abortion. So it seems that the location was well chosen for the Pope's very first travel abroad since the Catholic Church had begun generating headlines over sexual abuses by priests in several European nations.
Malta has one priest for every 490 faithful Catholics, reports The Independen
t, a stunning number when one compares it to a global average of one priest for about 2,900 catholic believers elsewhere. No wonder then that Malta has its very own cases of sexual abuse. A group of 10 such victims, now adults, have initiated court proceedings against priests seven years ago; yet these proceedings are still underway.
Lawrence Grech, who speaks on behalf of six former residents of the St Joseph orphanage where the abuse is said to have taken place in the 1980s, has given a few details of such abuses to the press
, stating that boys were abused and forced to dress in women's clothing while they were residents at the orphanage.
Before the Pope's visit to the island, the group of abuse victims had demanded a meeting with the pontiff, and although the Vatican first seemed reluctant, 8 of these now got what they wanted. At noon on April 18, a Sunday, a van with a police escort could be seen driving into the grounds of the Apostolic Nunciature in Rabat - Malta), carrying the 8 men to meet the man who celebrates the 5th anniversary today of being head of the Roman Catholic Church. The pontiff's schedule, however, was apparently so full that he spent only three minutes with each of the men.
"The climate was intense but very serene," Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi is quoted in the Independent as saying, as well as
"He [the Pope] prayed with them and assured them that the Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future."
One of the eight men, Joseph Magro, 38, explained afterwards that "Everybody was crying," and he also reported this: "I told him my name was Joseph, and he had tears in his eyes." He also said that the meeting was "fantastic".
Both the Pope and his spokesman refrained from commenting on the island's phallic statue
or the billboards with graffiti that showed Benedict with a Hitler mustache, while another one
carried the word pedophile next to the pontiff's image.