The only boy to be raped from the 11 who were abused by priests at Sta Venera’s St Joseph Home, LC, speaks for the first time about how he was sexually assaulted by three priests while he was an orphan in their care.
It was Sunday afternoon and the nine-year-old boy had just settled in the clergy’s quarters to watch television when a priest went to greet him, planting a kiss on his lips and parting the child’s mouth with his tongue.
“I froze. I had never experienced something like this. When it was over I ran to the toilet and threw up. But it was not enough, I wanted to remove his smell completely so I pushed my finger down my throat and vomited all I had inside,” he says, recalling the first time he encountered sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.
“I was confused and felt I couldn’t trust anybody. From that day on I wasn’t the boy I used to be,” he adds, shifting uncomfortably.
The 34-year-old man prefers to go by his initials LC and is still nervous about exposing his identity outside court for fear of discrimination.
The young boy had only just arrived at St Joseph’s Home when this kiss took place. Scared and clueless he reported the matter to the institute’s superiors, who issued instructions for the boys not to venture into the priests’ quarters. This priest was eventually transferred.
However, LC, the youngest boy in the group, was soon to find out that heavy petting and sexual abuse to varying degrees were not unusual between boys and priests, and he got drawn into a system where there was no escape and nobody to trust.
Bro. Joseph Bonett, who died last January aged 63, had a habit of stripping the boys naked whenever they turned up with a graze or a wound, and his hands would run over their body towards their private parts. None were keen to seek first aid when something happened.
When LC started developing and sprouting body hair, Bro. Bonett persuaded him that this hair had to be trimmed for hygiene purposes. This became a weekly appointment and the priest would trim the hair around his groin. This kept going on until LC was 17.
“I had accepted that Bro. Bonett was doing something good, that by removing my pubic hair I’d feel cleaner,” he says, lowering his voice.
When he was about 13 the boy caught the attention of another priest – Fr Carmelo Pulis, who has since been stripped of his priestly duties by the Vatican. At times, the priest would sneak up to his bed at night and slip his hands under the sheets to pull at his private parts, but LC would tell him to leave him alone. But the priest went much further, engaging the boy in lewd acts.
When LC was going to school, his poverty was made worse when he saw what his peers had. He yearned for material goods, which made him more vulnerable to the advances of Fr Francesco Scerri, known as Fr Godwin, who started luring him into his room with the offer of money, chocolates, a cigarette or the occasional shot of whisky – just a whiff of this whisky makes his stomach churn these days.
In return, for these ‘worldly goods’, Fr Godwin would ‘play’ with the 14-year-old. This had happened a few times, when the priest raped him, a painful incident he can never erase from his memory.
In his testimony in court, he recalls: “One time I was in Fr Godwin’s room at St Joseph’s. I told him I wanted to leave, but he told me to stay. I remember a boy knocking on the door... Fr Godwin told me to keep my mouth shut.
“After about five to 10 minutes the knocking stopped... Fr Godwin turned my face to the bed and penetrated me from behind... After he finished the priest stuck his head through the door (to see the corridor is clear) and handed me a stereo...”
Embarrassed, he lowers his voice to a whisper for fear nearby tables at the café will listen in and says: “After I was raped, I was finished. I closed up. From that day on I steered clear of him.”
When he saw the same priest in court his feelings were those of repulsion – “he repels me, he is a phoney, pathetic man”.
However, the court’s decision to convict Fr Pulis and Fr Scerri brought closure to the man who has spent the past 16 years since he left the institute trying to survive in a society he felt ill-equipped to face.
“I felt vindicated by the court decision. I was finally believed and it has helped me pick up the pieces and move on,” he says with a soul-baring smile.
LC, who lives in tiny quarters in the north of the island, never married and speaks about “all this love inside” that he cannot share with anybody.
Life was never easy for the young man. His mother put him in Fra Diegu, a nun’s home, when he was just seven months old. He describes his mother as an aggressive woman who has children from different men, but he still thanks her “for bringing me into this world”.
Although as a little boy he was always wondering why he was in an institute, he hated going home at weekends and “felt like a fish out of water”.
“I spent the weekend on a chair staring at the wall like a statue, not uttering a word. If I dared speak out to ask my mother to go the toilet, she’d make me wait – it’s not the first time I peed in my trousers. This pleased her because she’d take me back to the institute dirty in the hope she wouldn’t have to take me back,” he says, adding that, however, if she were still alive today, he’d try to get close to her.
By the age of nine he was transferred to St Joseph Home, which he left when he was 18, entering into a world where he had nowhere to go. His godmother took him in for a year, but he felt like a misfit.
“I was seeing all these people my age living a good normal life and I was so different. I wasn’t jealous, just hurt that I had to carry the cross.”
Looking back on how all these experiences have formed his life, LC reflects on how he has tried to learn, overcome his feelings and refuse to give up.
“For a long time I had a lot of pain inside and found it hard to face life. But everybody has their cross to bear and to grow up you have to face the currents and duck the blows life deals you,” he says.
He adds: “I forgive the priests for what they did because I understand they are human beings who make mistakes, but they have to pay for what they did. They’re cancelled from my life forever and it’s now time to turn over a new page.”