Priest guilty of hate speech over ‘being gay is worse than being possessed’ statement

Fr David Muscat had his initial acquittal overturned and has been handed a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years

A priest from Mosta has been handed a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after an appeals court judge overturned his hate speech acquittal.

In a judgement handed down this morning, Madam Justice Edwina Grima upheld the Attorney General’s appeal against the Court of Magistrate’s finding Fr. David Muscat not guilty of inciting hatred or violence because of homophobic remarks he made in two Facebook posts. 

Muscat was charged in January 2022, over posts of his on Facebook about  Abner Aquilina, who is charged with the murder of Polish student Paulina Dembska. Aquilina might be gay, bisexual, or possessed by the devil, the priest said in one of the posts, going on to write that being gay “is worse than being possessed.”

In the second post, featuring a picture of Aquilina wearing a colourful shirt, Muscat said that he appeared to be returning from a gay pride event.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna had sent a formal warning to the priest as a result of the public outcry to his comments, urging him to avoid making “inflammatory and offensive comments” on pain of losing the right to carry out his ministry in public.

The judge disagreed with the court of first instance’s “larger context” justification of the posts, and ruled the statements to be offensive, calling for greater care when commenting online.

Muscat was charged under a newly amended article of the Criminal Code which criminalises the use of words or behaviour which are threatening, abusive or insulting against individuals or groups of individuals on the basis of, amongst others, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, political or religious views. The crime carries a maximum punishment of imprisonment for 18 months.

Lawyers Maria Mula and Chris Attard appeared for the priest, while lawyer Etienne Savona represented the Office of the AG.