Scores of e-mails in support of controversial priest Fr Mark Montebello were sent to the Dominican Order in Rome ahead of a meeting with the Head of the Order, The Sunday Times has learnt.

On Friday, Fr Montebello met the head of the Dominican Order, Fr Carlos Aspiroz Costa, in what sources described as "a meeting between brothers".

Although the e-mails showed many Maltese people supported and appreciated Fr Montebello, some had attacked Archbishop Paul Cremona, something that hurt Fr Aspiroz Costa.

"Defending a brother by attacking another was taken as an insult," the sources said.

Fr Montebello was expected to be asked by the Order's Head to tone down his speeches and articles after being called to Rome in a move said to have followed insistence by Mgr Cremona.

The issue revolves around articles Fr Montebello wrote on newspapers about divorce and paedophilia as well as his defence of Nigerian Monday Iseki, 33, who was charged with resisting arrest.

Questions sent to the Curia, asking whether the Archbishop, who is also a Dominican, had insisted the Order take steps against Fr Montebello, remained unanswered.

"The Archbishop does not want Fr Mark's head and neither does the Order. Those who want to see blood should go to a Good Friday pageant," the sources said.

In fact, Fr Costa told Fr Montebello their meeting was "not a trial", the sources said. Fr Montebello was expected to stay in Rome for a few more days, and would be meeting Fr Costa again.

Fr Montebello and Fr Costa had studied together in Rome. During a visit to Malta last April, Fr Costa had visited Dar it-Tama, from where Fr Montebello's prisoners' rights group Mid-Dlam Għad-Dawl operates.

Apart from the e-mails, hundreds of people have signed a petition of solidarity with Fr Montebello.

The Maltese priest was disciplined by his local superior last November for "offending the sentiment of the Maltese" after he said he believed Jesus was in favour of divorce and that crucifixes did not need to be "flaunted" in public buildings.

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