Updated August 28 with Safeguarding Commission reply
A former priest who was convicted of violent indecent assault against a minor has been filmed hosting a children’s radio programme on a parish radio station.
Jesmond Gauci, from Xagħra, featured in a radio broadcast for the parish radio station, where he produced a religious programme aimed at children with the participation of other children and adolescents present with him in the studio. He currently serves as Radju Bambina’s programmes' manager.
The broadcast in which he appears to host a programme accompanied by two adolescents, two young children and an adult woman, was streamed on the Xagħra parish’s Facebook page on April 6.
Gauci was suspended from the priesthood in 2014 when he was accused of committing sexual offences against three underage girls. The behaviour was brought to light after the grandmother of one of the girls had confided in the Gozo bishop, who, in turn, filed a police report.
One girl, who was 13 years old at the time of the incident, reported that Gauci had assaulted her while on her parents’ boat, touching her breasts and genitals. A second incident was described in which the girl said Gauci hugged and groped her during a family barbecue, where she pushed him away.
The second victim had said that Gauci pestered her by sending flirty text messages or through Facebook and alleged that he had tried to kiss her during confession, while the third victim has also spoken of an incident in which Gauci fondled her.
The sentence handed down to Gauci in 2017 did not preclude him from being in the presence of minors- Jesmond Gauci’s lawyer Marsette Portelli
The court subsequently sentenced Gauci to a one-year jail term suspended for three years in 2017 with the education ministry also withdrawing his teaching warrant following the sentence.
Lawyer: Studio presence was 'one-off'
Replying to questions sent by Times of Malta on behalf of Gauci, lawyer Marsette Portelli said that his presence in the studio was a one-off occasion and that all the minors present on that occasion were accompanied by their parents. She also clarified that the sentence handed down to Gauci in 2017 did not preclude him from being in the presence of minors.
Gauci, she explained, holds a technical role managing the radio station’s software, work he typically carries out from home. On this occasion, Gauci was needed in the studio as there was no counterpart to present in person. She added that Gauci’s role did not involve him interviewing nor speaking to the minors and not only was another adult present in the room with him but the broadcast was also streamed live on Facebook.
Parishioner: 'Parish implies it will protect aggressors'
One parishioner, who asked not to be named, said it was disappointing to see the parish seemingly embracing Gauci and allowing him to come into contact with children despite his past conviction.
“While I fully understand the importance of rehabilitation after someone has paid for their crimes, the Church’s attitude in Xagħra consistently sends a message through which it implies that it will protect aggressors and blame victims.
“This is one of several cases where the aggressor was given a role within the same setting where they committed the crime, whereas the victim and their supportive families become isolated within the Church and the community. The message to those considering reporting their aggressors is that, even if the courts find their aggressors guilty of violent sexual assault, they will never be able to lead a normal life within the community and they will forever keep having to face their aggressors who meanwhile were given powerful positions within the Church.”
In reply to questions sent by Times of Malta, the Gozo diocese said the issue had been passed on to the Safeguarding of Minors Gozo, which is in the process of verifying information.
Diocese: We strive to prevent abuse
The Diocese issued further comments on Friday.
"The Diocese is continually striving to prevent any abuse on minors especially where the perpetrators are in any way connected with the Roman Catholic Church; and, where, sadly, is informed of any allegation that any such abuse is committed, it acts immediately by prohibiting any type of interaction, whether pastoral or not, with the minor or other vulnerable person involved, until it is proven that the allegation is unfounded.
"Furthermore, if the Safeguarding Commission decides that the allegation has been sufficiently proven, the ministry of the person involved is terminated or restricted even if the ordinary courts decide otherwise. This is normal practice in all parishes in Gozo.
"The rehabilitation of the perpetrator is also a factor to bear in mind, but the Diocese has never given more importance to that factor than to the full acknowledgement of the wrong suffered by the victim and the reparation of the damage caused."
The Safeguarding Commission said Gauci has left the priesthood and his involvement at the parish was reduced to that of a technical administrator of the parish radio station, on a voluntary basis.
"The radio studios are monitored 24 hours a day with CCTV cameras, and the radio programmes are also transmitted online. Besides, Mr Gauci is always supervised by other adults present in the studios all the time. The studios are accessible all the time by anyone involved in the running of the parish radio station.
"In view of the above, it is therefore impossible for Mr Gauci to form any kind of bond, or of exercising any form of inappropriate behaviour with minors."