Judge orders continuation of compensation claim in priest sex abuse case

St Paul's Missionary Society distance themselves from defrocked priests and say that it will not shoulder any responsibility for legal costs, court hears.

Lawrence Grech led the victims' case for compensation
Lawrence Grech led the victims' case for compensation

The First Hall Civil Court has ordered the continuation of a compensation claim filed by 10 sexual abuse victims after it rejected the request of two defrocked priest for them to contest the case.

The case goes back to August 2011, when two priests of the St Paul's Missionary Society, Godwin Scerri, 78, and Carmelo Pulis, 69, were defrocked and jailed for five and six years respectively after they had been convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys in their care at St Joseph’s Home in Santa Venera in the 1980s.

Following the priest’s imprisonment, the ten victims, led by Lawrence Grech – the man who broke the silence on this case – called for financial compensation, but did not specify the amount.

The compensation claim was filed by Lawrence Grech, Joseph Magro, Leonard Camilleri, David Cassar, Noel Dimech, Angelo Spiteri, Raymond Azzopardi, Charles Falzon, Phillip Cauchi and Joseph Mangion against the Curia, the government, the Attorney General, Carmel Pulis, Godwin Scerri, the Archbishop and the St Paul's Missionary Society.

Contesting the compensation claim, the priests argued that they did not respond within the stipulated 20-day timeframe due to several reasons since the assistant superior general of the Society left them with the impression that “everything would be handled.” Consequently, it argued that it should nevertheless be given the opportunity to contest the claims.

In its decision, the First Hall Civil Court, presided by Judge Joseph R. Micallef, turned down the claims, after a Society representative distanced themselves from the defrocked priests prior to the start of the civil case. Moreover, the Society had argued that it will not pay for any legal assistance, and that it would not shoulder any financial costs.

Consequently, the court argued that since the priests failed to reply to the civil case within the stipulated time frame, technically they were not in a position to contest the case but were conversely, in a way, accepting the claim.

Moreover, the judge underlined that the court was not satisfied that the former priests failed to convince the court of their reply because of circumstances beyond their control.

Mr Justice Joseph R. Micallef therefore ordered that the civil case for compensation continues.