Priest gets suspended sentence after child molestation conviction

Xaghra priest Jesmond Gauci was sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for three years after being found guilty of molesting a 13-year-old girl

Fr Jesmond Gauci emerging from court after being arraigned on charges of child molestation
Fr Jesmond Gauci emerging from court after being arraigned on charges of child molestation

Xaghra priest Jesmond Gauci has been sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for three years after being found guilty of molesting a 13-year-old girl.

The 45-year-old was however, found not guilty of having sexual relations with the girl as well as with two other minors. He was also cleared of defilement and of misuse of means of communication.

Police opened investigations into the priest after a letter was sent by Gozo Bishop Mario Grech, informing police of the alleged abuse of minors.

Gauci was a priest for over 10 years and then employed as a religion teacher at a boys’ secondary state school in Hamrun but was suspended from working with children since August 2014.

In May of 2014, inspector Sylvana Gafa, then Briffa, from the Vice Squad, charged Gauchi with having sexual relations with three teenage girls, defilement, corruption of morals, harassment and misusing means of communication.

Gauci denied having sexual relations with the girls.

A court presided by magistrate Neville Camilleri heard testimony from the priest, the tree girls involved, the girls’ families as well as social workers.

One of the girls claimed that while she was accompanying her father on a boat, she was listening to music in a cabin when the priest approached her and touched her breasts through her shirts, and later touched her genitals through her bathing suit. She also described how on another occasion, during a family BBQ attended by the accused, Gauci allegedly came up behind her and hugged her, touching her breasts in the process. As the girl pushed him away, her mother had noticed the unwarranted gesture.

The second girl told the court that she attended private lessons with the accused, and that during these classes he would pull her hair. She described another encounter, this time during confession in the Santa Marta chapel, where the priest allegedly pulled on her shirt and attempted to kiss her.

The third victim recalled how the priest had pulled her towards him, fondling her breasts while uttering the words "cosy, cosy."

Two of the girls claimed Gauci had sent them messages on their phones and on Facebook. Allegedly, messages contained phrases along the lines of “How are you sweet?”, “sweety pies”, and “honey bunch.”

Taking to the witness stand himself, Gauci admitted to hugging one of the girls, adding that he considered the language in his texts to be “friendly”.

In delivering his judgement, the magistrate described the priest as very intelligent, friendly, bubbly, talkative and expressed his emotions through hugs. He noted, however, that Gauci had been evasive at points when being cross examined.

After analysing the evidence, the court found the priest guilty of indecent sexual assault on one of the girls.

In its sentence, the court considered the clean criminal record of the accused as well as his positive pastoral and educational services. On the other hand, the magistrate said that court could not ignore the nature of the offence, the age of the victim, the manner of perpetration of the acts and the fact that the wrongdoer was a priest. Gauci was handed a one-year jail term, suspended for three years. The court also imposed a Protection Order of three years in respect of one of the victims.

On the other hand, the court held that there was no evidence to indicate that there had been sexual relations between him and the girls, thus clearing him of the remaining charges.

Officers Sylvana Gafa and Joseph Busuttil prosecuted.

Lawyer Joseph Giglio was defence counsel.

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