‘I only patted their shoulders’, says Bormla priest of Italy abuse charges

Felix Cini, who pled guilty to criminal charges in Italy on child abuse, had been refused Maltese incardination

Felix Cini: the Maltese priest insists he never did anything wrong
Felix Cini: the Maltese priest insists he never did anything wrong

A priest who pled guilty to Italian criminal charges of the abuse of 17 children in an Italian diocese, has denied having committed anything wrong.

Felix Cini, who lives in Bormla after having returned from Italy in 2014, is still being granted special dispensation by the Maltese archdiocese to say mass on “special occasions”, despite criticism that the priest should not be allowed to carry out any form of ministry.

In 2004 Cini was found guilty for the “excessive attention” he paid to 17 boys and girls from the parish of Grossetto, but in comments to newspaper Illum, denied having done anything wrong.

“I only patted their shoulders… I used to help the altar boys get dressed. Giving attention is not abuse,” Cini said.

The children were between 10 and 14 years of age when they testified against the priest.

The Maltese archdiocese said Cini was incardinated as a priest in Italy, and insisted that despite him being allowed to say mass for family occasions, he was “not a full-time priest”.

After having accepted criminal responsibility in the Italian charges, Cini was allowed to spend two years and a half in the Venturi monastery, where the Vatican is believed to send priests of “unsavoury sexual tendencies” or illegal substance abuse for therapy.

The Italian police had confiscated two computers previously owned Cini. Although it had been reported that traces of paedophile porn were found on these computers, Cini told Illum he was never charged with anything of the sort.

Illum also revealed that Cini had been prohibited from becoming a Carmelite priest, but the priest insisted with the newspaper that it was his choice to leave the Order before his novitiate was completed.

Cini was also not accepted into the Archbishop’s seminary, which prepares novices to become diocesan priests.

It was then that Cini employed contacts he had in the Birkirkara parish to secure himself a place in the diocese of Grossetto in Italy.

Cini denied having signed up for the seminary, and insisted his reason to seek incardination in Italy was that he “wanted to carry on with [his] work… it was my personal decision.”

Cini also claimed that he pled guilty to charges, which he still denies, because there were “forces at play beyond his control”, allegedly in a bid to mount an attack on the Archbishop of Grossetto.

“The Archbishop wanted to stifle the matter quickly so we decided to move forward,” he said, explaining the reason for his guilty plea.

“If the accusations that I had abused of 17 boys and girls had some shred of truth, I should have been given a coffin in prison. Had they been true, I would not have had the courage to climb up to the altar and look at God,” he said.

After leaving Venturini in 2008, Cini was placed in another Italian parish, Cercemaggiore in the Molise region, where his criminal conviction led to a public outrage to have him removed, despite a petition by 3,000 parishioners for him to stay on.

The Vatican had praised the parishioners who supported Cini, saying the priest “had moved on the right path of wisdom, maturity and convalescence” – but decided to heed the public outrage and move Cini elsewhere.

The Commissioner for Children of the Molise region had criticised the relocation of Cini to another parish after his Venturini sojourn came to an end.

“Those individuals who have a role in educating children, the elderly, the sick and the vulnerable – they are authorities that have to guide the spirit towards virtuous choices. We can exclude that in this particular case, because the file on this man indicates malicious and criminal behaviour,” the commissioner had said.