Missionary benefactor accused of slandering priest on Christmas Eve

Priest tells court that the benefactor would use prostitutes whilst on missionary work in Guatemala and pay them with beer

A missionary has told a court how he had ended up being slandered after he rebuked a volunteer and benefactor who financed a number of Mission Fund projects in Guatemala for lewd and obscene behaviour and alcohol abuse.

Dun Anton Grech is a Catholic missionary who returned to Malta two years ago, having spent 20 years in Guatemala.

He took the witness stand in criminal proceedings against Luigi Duca. Duca, 67 of Ghaxaq, stands charged with fabricating evidence of a non-existent crime, making a false report to the police, knowingly reporting Fr. Grech to the authorities for a crime he hadn't committed, defamation and slander.

Fr. Grech told magistrate Joe Mifsud how he had met Duca in 2007 when the latter visited his parish as part of a group sent by the Mission Fund. The priest had been collaborating with the group on a number of projects, he said, before moving on to a different village to set up a new parish in the rainforest, on the orders of the bishop.

He described Duca as a loner, “solitary, cut off from the group,” who had come to work with him in Guatemala, normally around Christmas time, for several years.

The priest said he was “very cautious” when he was approached by Duca, a well-to-do benefactor who had insisted on doing something to help the poor there. The priest had insisted that a committee be appointed to manage the funds properly, he said.

This committee included a lawyer and a treasurer.

Without Fr Grech’s knowledge, Duca had started collecting money for the Guatemala mission while in Malta. Fr Grech said that he had no knowledge of how much was actually collected, however confirmed that funds did pass on to his mission.

Some months later, Duca visited Guatemala and met with the committee for the first time. The priest had showed him the accounts and explained that a builder had been hired for the projects. It took three to four months to build each house and 19 houses were constructed.

The priest said he was dead-set against “the colonial idea of going to somewhere poor and just building houses.”

Between 2009 and 2015, Duca kept on sending some money, which according to the priest meant that he trusted him. In August 2015, while the priest was in Malta, the Mission Fund had told him that Duca wanted to speak to him.

“The last time I met him I had warned Duca about certain goings-on that I wasn't morally happy with. I told him 'you've done many good things but don't ruin them now’.”

Prosecuting police inspector Anne Marie Xuereb asked the witness what it was that he had found morally objectionable.

“His drinking... I had sent him a letter about it. On one occasion, he drank six beers after getting out of the car and then came to speak to me. I told him in the missions we don't come here to drink because you'll be causing damage to yourself and to me.”

Customs had stopped a container of wine in a Caritas container that Duca had ordered, said the priest. “I was also told that he was bringing in a prostitute home and paying her with beer. He offered another woman $200 for sex and then $400 when she refused. Then he masturbated over her. These aren't things that should happen in the missions.”

“I told him that he had done some good, but now don't come back anymore.”

The court also heard a foundation worker from Guatemala testify to having been offered money for sex by the accused.

Duca had sent the priest a letter saying that he was “most hurt by the theft of whiskey by this woman,” Fr. Grech explained. “Had she asked me for a bottle I would have given her ten,” reads the letter, which makes no mention of the charitable projects.

Fr Grech then explained that the accused had published a book, titled “Bicca minn Hajti fil-Gwatemala,’ in which he mentioned Fr Grech and said he knew him well, describing where he came from and his life story. Fr Grech said that all of this had been done without his consent.

Also without the priest's consent, Duca had used a picture of Fr. Grech on the cover of the book. “The book contains allegations about Fr. Marcellino Micallef that I didn't agree with. I'm a priest who knows my parish's priorities.” 

The priest had gone to the police after, whilst on his last trip to Guatemala, Duca had distributed flyers which stated that the Maltese priest had been stealing money from him and misapplying the funds collected. The letter was delivered to the locals on Christmas Eve, he said.

“I know Duca did a lot of good and I forgave him for everything. But he had now exceeded the limit.”

 Inspector Anne Marie Xuereb is prosecuting, Marion Camilleri was defence counsel, lawyer Kathleen Grima appeared parte civile.

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