A Maltese priest at the centre of a lawsuit over alleged child abuse in Australia has refused to return to Australia to face his accuser, a former altar boy.
The Cairns Post reported that Fr Joseph Sultana relocated from the Cairns diocese to Gozo in the late 1990s after allegations surfaced of misconduct that the Catholic Church deemed "inappropriate" for a priest.
A decade after Fr Sultana left the Far North, a Cairns man lodged a lawsuit against the Catholic Church in the Supreme Court, claiming he was regularly abused by Fr Sultana while he was a student and altar boy at St Joseph's School and Church at Atherton between March 1979 and November 1982.
The newspaper said it had tracked Fr Sultana to his current residence in Gozo.
At the time the court case was lodged in October last year, The Cairns Post was told by local church representatives that they did not know if Fr Sultana was still alive.
In a brief phone conversation on Friday, Fr Sultana, believed to be aged in his 70s, said he would not return to Australia for the court case.
"I cannot talk about this with you or anyone," he told the newspaper.
Cairns Bishop James Foley, who offered the victim religious counselling when informed of the abuse in November 2009, told The Cairns Post he had been in email contact with the current Bishop of Gozo, where Father Sultana is still serving as a priest.
"The current Bishop of Gozo (Malta) and I have exchanged emails on this matter, initiated by him after this was reported in the media in Malta," Bishop Foley said.
"Now I have no authority or jurisdiction over Joseph Sultana.
"The alleged victim and his solicitors have been urged by myself and our lawyers that this matter should be in police hands, as they are the only ones with the means and the authority to investigate.
"If I make any contact with Joseph Sultana at this stage, that could interfere with any current or future police investigation.
"Hence, I am unable to say or do more at this time."