Updated at 6.20pm (Adds Church statement)
Fr Charles Fenech, former director of the Kerygma Movement, has been found guilty of violent indecent assault on a woman who had been suffering depression and was receiving treatment at Mt Carmel Hospital.
He was, however, found not guilty of holding the woman against her will.
The woman had claimed that Fr Fenech had abused of her vulnerability and forced her to give him oral sex.
At the time she was going through separation proceedings and was suffering depression and receiving treatment at Mt Carmel Hospital after having attempted suicide.
Victim was suffering from depression after having attempted suicide
She had sought comfort from Fr Fenech, then director of the Kerygma Movement.
One day she organised a party at her home to celebrate her release from hospital when Fr Fenech asked to speak to her alone and tried to `kiss her, but she rejected his approaches.
On another occasion, late one evening in Buskett, he tried to force her to perform oral sex, something she had never done, not even with her husband, the court heard. The victim said she had also been groped and there had been other episodes of oral sex in her own home and Fr Fenech's convent.
The incident prompted her to file a police report in August 2011.
She spoke to friends who alerted the Curia and an investigation was launched by its Response Team. At the time she gave false testimony there.
The court said the woman had had an ambivalent relationship with the priest, being sometimes close to him and sometimes the contrary. At times, by her own admission, she saw him as a caring paternal figure.
What emerged was excessive and inappropriate familiarity that went on and off until it ended in October 2012.
The court, after considering evidence by various witnesses including a psychiatrist and people who knew the woman, said that the accused clearly knew that the woman was vulnerable and suffering from anxiety and depression and that she was receiving treatment at Mt Carmel Hospital. The issue of mental health was important as violence was presumed in cases where a person was unable to resist due to a mental disability.
However, there was no evidence of illegal arrest.
Fr Fenech was found guilty of sexual abuse and sentenced to three months imprisonment suspended for a year.
Lawyers Michael and Lucio Sciriha and Franco Galea appeared for Fr Fenech.
Fr Fenech remained restricted from occupying any pastoral role in Malta and Gozo, the Curia said this afternoon.
In a statement, it said the Church’s Safeguarding Commission had taken note of the judgement.
It reminded the public to contact the police and the commission about any concerns related to abuse.
The commission can be contacted on 25906315, firstname.lastname@example.org .
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