Former Kerygma director Fr Charles Fenech guilty of attempted violent indecent assault

Three months' imprisonment, suspended for one year, for former Kerygma director Fr Charles Fenech for attempted violent indecent assault • Cleared of illegal arrest and committing indecent or immoral acts in public

Fr Charles Fenech emerging from the law courts in Valletta (Photo by Ray Attard)
Fr Charles Fenech emerging from the law courts in Valletta (Photo by Ray Attard)

Former Kerygma director Fr Charles Fenech has been found guilty of attempted violent indecent assault, but cleared of illegal arrest and committing indecent or immoral acts in public.

It was in December 2014 that Fenech, 57, from Rabat, was charged before Magistrate Tonio Micallef Trigona with sexually abusing a woman in her 40s who was working at the Dar tal-Providenza at the time.

The woman had told police in 2011 that she been going through a period of turmoil, due to her separating from her husband and had been admitted to Mount Carmel Hospital after attempting suicide. She had explained that she had also been part of the Kerygma movement and had found an understanding and caring ear in Fr Fenech.

After her release from hospital, she had held a party at her home and invited her close friends, amongst them the accused. At one stage Fr Fenech had isolated her and attempted to French kiss her, but she had refused.

19 November 2014: Criminal defamation case against Fr Charles Fenech being heard behind closed doors. Video: Chris Mangion

On another occasion, she had returned to Malta from Gozo late at night and Fr Fenech had insisted that she accompany him to Buskett, where he had tried to force her to perform oral sex on him. She had initially refused saying that she did not even do these things with her husband.

This notwithstanding, the woman said she had performed oral sex on the priest “on frequent occasions, even in the convent where the accused resides or in her home.”

The priest would touch her private parts, she said, but that was the extent of his active participation.

The court observed that the woman's relationship with the accused was ambivalent. The accused had filled an emotional void in her life, it said.

“Another factor that perplexes the court is that fact that she would trust certain friends, some of whom had testified in this case who made allegations against the accused that this court is not going repeat or comment upon.

“What emerges as fact is that possibly excessive and certainly inopportune familiarity took root between the complainant and the accused.”

The court observed that the woman had been seeing a psychiatrist for several years, saying that this meant that she suffered from some form of mental illness, pointing out that the question as to whether this illness had an impact on her ability to resist had not been investigated by the prosecution, however. The mental health factor was important as violence is presumed and the crime is aggravated in cases where a person is unable to resist due to a mental debility.

“Truthfully, also the accused could not had not noticed that the complainant was a vulnerable person,” observed the court.

Magistrate Micallef Trigona cleared the priest of holding the woman against her will and the charge of public indecency, but found him guilty of the first charge, handing Fr. Charles Fenech a sentence of 3 months' imprisonment, suspended for one year.

Defence counsel for Fenech was lawyer Michael Sciriha, while lawyer Jason Grima appeared as parte civile for the victim.

In keeping with the recommendation of the Safeguarding Commission of January 2016, Fr Fenech remains restricted from occupying any pastoral role within the Archdiocese of Malta and the Diocese of Gozo.

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