Gozo bishop’s inaction on paedophile priest infuriates clergy

Pressure mounts on Gozo bishop Mario Grech after failing to execute Vatican’s order to defrock paedophile priest

Gozo bishop Mario Grech when he met Pope Francis
Gozo bishop Mario Grech when he met Pope Francis

A Gozitan priest who was defrocked by the Vatican in 2013 has not yet been notified of his dismissal by the Gozo bishop, Mario Grech.

Grech’s dithering has led to calls for his resignation, with a number of Gozitan priests reporting the bishop’s misconduct to the Vatican.

MaltaToday is informed that in March 2013, the Vatican had upheld its original decision to defrock Dominic Camilleri, who in 2003 was first investigated by the Maltese church over the sexual abuse of minors.

However, the Gozo bishop has not executed Camilleri’s dismissal and sources have told MaltaToday that this could be connected to the shamed priest’s alleged threats to expose other cases of sexual abuse involving Gozitan priests.

Sources said that while Grech had no qualms in taking disciplinary action against other priests, he has failed to take any action against Camilleri, despite receiving a papal decree ordering the priest’s dismissal more than two and a half years ago.

Camilleri had been accused of abusing a number of boys in Gozo, though details of the cases, believed to have taken place over a number of years, are hazy since the case was never reported to the police.

Although the 63-year-old had been banned from practising his clerical duties in public in 2005, this newspaper is informed that Camilleri still says mass in a private chapel. 

Archbishop Charles Scicluna served as the Vatican’s chief prosecutor in abuse cases up to 2012 but the Maltese archdiocese told MaltaToday that questions on the case should be referred to the Gozitan curia.

In a brief reaction, the Gozo bishop’s curia said that it is “unable to comment on individual cases for confidentiality reasons.”

Malta and Gozo are separate dioceses, each with its own administration. Since 1864, the diocese of Gozo has been led by a bishop, whilst the Maltese archdiocese is led by a metropolitan archbishop, who does not have any jurisdiction on the Gozitan diocese.

In its response, the Gozo curia failed to reply to questions related to Camilleri’s case and instead reiterated that in all cases of alleged abuse by pastoral functionaries on minors, the protocols set by both canon and civil law, are accurately followed.  

“While we are unable to comment on individual cases for confidentiality reasons, action is taken in all cases of alleged abuse, as deemed necessary, to safeguard all parties,” the Gozo diocese said.

It added that since its inception in February 2015, the Church Commission for the Safeguarding of Children and Vulnerable Adults has been advising the diocese of Gozo in “all safeguarding children matters.”

Speaking to MaltaToday on the condition of anonymity, Gozitan priests and parish priests said that they have not been notified of Camilleri’s dismissal and neither have they been told to ensure that he does not actively practise his clerical duties in their parishes.  

Camilleri’s case was referred to the Curia’s Response Team in October 2003 by then Gozo Bishop Nikol Cauchi. The Nadur priest was found guilty by an administrative and penal tribunal within the Malta diocese, however the victims refused to take the case to the police and details of the case are scant.

Following the conclusion of the preliminary investigations in September 2005, Cauchi had presented the case to the Holy See and Camilleri was suspended from all public priestly ministry in December of the same year.

In the following months, Camilleri had visited the central American country of Honduras and Cauchi had duly informed the local curia of the suspension. 

The current Gozo bishop’s inaction against Camilleri has roused the ire of a number of Gozitan priests who are concerned with Grech’s way of dealing with cases of abuse. 

MaltaToday is informed that Grech’s hesitation to dismiss Camilleri led to an internal revolt within the Gozo curia, with a number of priests raising their concerns with Pope Francis and high ranking figures at the Holy See. 

Calling on the Vatican to “investigate” Grech’s professional misconduct, Gozitan priests also pointed out “gross financial mismanagement” perpetuated by the bishop and the interference by his family in the running of the diocese. 

Before Mgr Charles Scicluna’s appointment as Archbishop of Malta earlier this year, Gozitan priests warned the Vatican against appointing Grech, who they said was “not fit for purpose” to serve as Metropolitan Archbishop of Malta. 

The Vatican was also informed of the theft of a letter issued by Grech requesting a parish priest to keep an eye on another paedophile priest.

In recent years, the Catholic church has been plagued by cases of paedophilia involving members of the clergy and the Maltese and Gozitan diocese have had their fair share of scandals too. 

In 2012, defrocked priests Carmelo Pulis and Godwin Scerri were sentenced to six years and five years imprisonment respectively after being found guilty of sexually abusing at least 11 orphan boys at St Joseph Home in Hamrun. 

In 2006, the Archdiocese of Miami barred Gozitan priest Anthony Mercieca from functioning as a priest anywhere in the world after confirming that he was the clergyman who was accused of molesting former member of the United States House of Representatives Mark Foley in the 1960s.

Mercieca fled American justice and flew to Gozo were he reportedly defied the US church’s orders and celebrated mass every morning at the cathedral in Victoria.

In 2011, the Australian Catholic church settled a sex-abuse case involving a Maltese-born priest, Emanuel Joseph Spiteri, who had returned to Malta, where he continued to be regarded as a priest.

More recently, Fr Jesmond Gauci, a Gozitan priest, was arraigned in court after being accused of abusing three girls, allegedly touching one of his teenage victims in front of her mother, at a family event. Gauci was released on bail in September 2014.

In a separate case, Fr Charles Fenech from Rabat, was this year charged in court over the alleged sexual abuse of women over a number of years. 

In May, Archbishop Scicluna revealed that since being appointed to head the Malta diocese three months earlier, four new clerical sex abuse claims were being investigated by the newly set up Safeguarding Commission.