Ex-Kerygma director Fr Charles Fenech's 'guilty' verdict for abusing vulnerable woman overturned on appeal

Court of Appeal revokes first court’s guilty verdict, reduces sentence to one week in prison suspended for six months

Fr Charles Fenech (centre) emerging from the law courts in Valletta in 2017, following his first sentencing (Photo: Ray Attard)
Fr Charles Fenech (centre) emerging from the law courts in Valletta in 2017, following his first sentencing (Photo: Ray Attard)

The Court of Appeal has overturned former Kerygma director Fr Charles Fenech’s guilty verdict for abusing a vulnerable woman, and reduced his sentence to one week in prison, suspended for six months.

In August 2017, the Court of Magistrates had found Fenech, 58, from Rabat, guilty of attempted violent indecent assault of a woman in her 40s, who was working at the Dar tal-Providenza at the time.

It had sentenced him to three months imprisonment, suspended for one year.

But in a judgement delivered today, the appeals court, presided over by Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera, revoked the Dominican friar’s sentence, finding that the prosecution did not bring forward the proof required by law that he had engaged in sexual activity by exploiting her vulnerability due to her mental illness.

The court said that it was not a matter of contention that Fenech and the woman had an intimate relationship, with the two meeting in various places - including a convent and the woman’s home - to engage in sexual activity.

However, the court said, it was also certain that the woman was able to put a stop to the meetings with Fenech when she so wanted.

The sexual relationship between the two took place with their mutual consent, it said, with the woman having on numerous occasions picked the friar up using her own car, following which she would drive to different places to partake in amorous activity with him.

“If she were so vulnerable, it wouldn’t have been her to instigate the actions,” the court remarked, “She would instead have been on the defensive, and not the initiator in the situation.”

It also noted that, when her friends had reported the case to the Curia, the woman had denied the accusations in Fenech’s regard, since she hadn’t wanted to get him into trouble because of her.

Although she was a vulnerable person, she knew exactly what she was doing, the court said.

The appeals court, therefore, found Fenech not guilty of having abused the woman, revoking the first court’s judgement in this respect.

It, however, confirmed the first court's guilty verdict for the charge of engaging in sexual activity in a public place, and sentenced him to a one-week term in prison, suspended for six months.

Lawyers Michael Sciriha, Lucio Sciriha and Franco Galea were defence counsel.

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