The two Xagħra priests separately charged with sexually abusing an eight-year-old altar boy about 16 years ago were suspended from priestly duties last year, Times of Malta has learned.

The suspension followed the completion of an investigation by the Church’s Safeguarding Commission.

The abusive acts are alleged to have taken place at the Xagħra parish between 2003 and 2005.

Joseph Cini, 70, and Joseph Sultana, 84, are in preventive custody after being charged with defiling the boy on a number of occasions and holding him against his will. Cini was also charged with raping him. Both men deny the charges.

A spokesman for the Gozo diocese said the two priests were suspended as soon as the diocese received the recommendation from the commission charged with investigating such abuse cases. “They were suspended from carrying out their ministry several months ago following the recommendation of the Safeguarding Commission,” the spokesman said in reply to questions.

The spokesman refused to give further details on when they were suspended and when the recommendation was received by the Gozo diocese, saying that since the matter was now in court, the Curia was precluded from giving any information on the case.

Testifying in a Gozo court on Wednesday, the alleged victim gave a graphic account of the abuse he says he suffered at the hands of the two priests, when he was just eight and nine years old.

The witness also described his descent into teenage drug use and suicidal thoughts as a result of the abuse.

Now in his mid-20s, the man, whose name cannot be published by court order, said Cini used to pay him for performing sexual acts.

“The more he did, the more [money] he gave me.”

The case continues next week.

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