Godwin Scerri, one of the two priests found guilty of sexually abusing teenage boys who lived in a residential home, has been defrocked by the Vatican.
The decision was taken after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which investigates abuse allegations independently of the law courts, also found Mr Scerri guilty of the charges brought against him.
In August, Mr Scerri and Charles Pulis, both members of the Missionary Society of St Paul, were sentenced to five and six years in prison respectively for sexually abusing 11 young boys in their care at the St Joseph Home in Sta Venera in the 1980s and 1990s. Both appealed the judgment and are out on bail.
Mr Pulis was defrocked in July following the independent Vatican investigation.
The MSSP said yesterday the Vatican had informed it that Mr Scerri had been “dismissed from the clerical state”. He will, however, remain an MSSP member. This means that he will follow the vows of the society that are poverty, chastity and obedience.
Defrocking is the highest punishment that can be meted out by the Vatican. It essentially means that Mr Scerri can no longer carry out pastoral duties.
The abuse at St Joseph Home came to light in 2003 after one of the victims, Lawrence Grech, decided to break his silence. The matter was investigated by the Church’s Response Team, which eventually referred the case to the Vatican.
The cases took more than eight years to be concluded and the local Church had been accused of dragging its feet incessantly on the issue.
The Vatican had also investigated and acquitted a third priest, Fr Conrad Sciberras, of sex abuse allegations. It still restricted his Sacred Ministry to adults due to evidence giving rise to “serious suspicions”.
Criminal action was never taken against Fr Sciberras since the case against him was time barred. In August, Fr Sciberras filed a judicial protest warning Mr Grech against speaking about the allegations as if they were fact, even though he had never been subjected to any criminal proceedings.
A fourth priest, Fr Joseph Bonnett, died before the court case against him ended.
After the court decided the case against Mr Pulis and Mr Scerri, in August, the Vatican’s chief prosecutor in clerical abuse cases, Mgr Charles Scicluna, said the victims deserved compensation.
Meetings were held between the victims and representatives of the Church but, sometime later, the Church announced it would not be paying compensation and rejecting legal responsibility for the sexual abuse perpetrated by two of its priests.