Updated | Police question Augustinian parish priest over theft of artworks, silverware

Fr Deo Debono was spoken to at length by the police after a stolen incense holder was discovered at an antique shop • Archbishop removes parish priest

Updated at 8.50pm with Archbishop's statement

Police have questioned Valletta’s Augustinian parish priest over the theft of priceless artworks and silverware from his own convent, MaltaToday has learnt.

Sources close to the investigation said the police were led to Fr Deo Debono’s door when the authorities were alerted to the presence of a stolen silver thurible at an antique shop.

The incense holder was reported stolen from a cloister used by the Augustinian nuns in Valletta. 

Sources said it was the shop owner who led the police to Debono.

Further investigations uncovered more stolen items, including “priceless” paintings that were found in a house known to Debono.

It remains unclear what the priest’s involvement in the case is but sources said he was spoken to at length by the police.

“He could simply be the middleman,” the sources said, refusing to be drawn on whether there were plans to charge the priest in the coming days.

News of the theft of priceless paintings from the St Augustine church first emerged earlier this year when In-Nazzjon reported the matter. The newspaper gave more details of the case over the past two days.

It is understood that the issue came to light after priests living in the same convent noticed that some of the paintings on one of the upper floors went missing, or were replaced by others.

The sources said investigations in the case were complicated by the conflicting interests of the people involved.

When contacted Debono said he was instructed by the police not to say anything. However, he insisted that the allegations against him were being “embellished and exaggerated”.

The feast of St Augustine in Valletta is being celebrated on Sunday 22 September.

Archbishop removes Debono from parish priest

In a statement on Wednesday evening, Archbishop Charles Scicluna said that in agreement with the Provincial of the Augustinians, Fr Leslie Gatt, Debono, will not remain parish priest of St Augustine Parish in Valletta.

Scicluna decided that Debono will not exercise his priestly ministry in public until the police investigations and any other procedures in the Civil Courts are concluded.

"This decision has been taken following the allegations concerning this priest that have been reported in the media," the statement released by the Curia said.