A former altar boy who claims he was sexually abused by two priests in Xagħra first mentioned his childhood trauma in September 2019 but only named the alleged perpetrators several months later, Gozo bishop Anton Teuma told a court on Monday.
Teuma said the victim had first mentioned the abuse in their sixth counselling session together, held in September 2019, but gave no names or details. He was the first person the victim had confided in.
He only mentioned the names of his alleged abusers – Xagħra priests Joseph Cini, 70, and Joseph Sultana, 84 - in March 2020 during the last of 19 counselling sessions, Teuma recalled while testifying.
But despite revealing their identities, Teuma said the victim insisted he did not want to report the two men. Nor did he go into detail about what had happened to him as a child, with Teuma saying he had been shocked to learn of the details when reading media reports of Cini and Sultana's arraignments.
The bishop recalled the pressure of knowing of the alleged abuse but being unable to do anything about it, and described the relief he felt when the victim finally decided he wanted to report the matter, in August 2020.
“I was happy, because I could not carry the burden of knowing any longer,” Teuma testified, saying he then directed the man to the Church’s safeguarding commission.
The Church restricted the two priests’ ministries that same month, following a recommendation to that effect by the safeguarding commission.
I was happy, because I could not carry the burden of knowing any longer- Gozo Bishop Anton Teuma
Sultana and Cini stand accused of defiling a child and holding him against his will during periods dating back to 2003 to 2005. Cini has also been charged with rape. Both are pleading not guilty.
A court last week heard the victim describe how Sultana would physically molest him inside the Church sacristy and confessional, with Cini sexually abusing him inside his car or Marsalforn home. He said Cini would give him money after each incident, handing him Lm5 (€11.65) after one occasion when he raped him on a sofa.
Reporting to Church commission
The victim says the two priests abused him separately, but at the same period of time in his life.
He told a court how he had kept the abuse secret for several years, before confiding in Teuma and then speaking to the Church’s safeguarding commission.
Testifying on Monday, safeguarding commission head Andrew Azzopardi said that he first met the alleged victim on August 17, 2020.
Azzopardi said he then recommended that Sultana and Cini have their ministries restricted and informally reported the matter to the police, as he did not have the victim’s permission to file an official report at that stage.
The victim eventually agreed to file a formal report on January 19, 2021, Azzopardi said. Both men were charged in court the following week.
Prosecutors Joseph Busuttil and Dorianne Tabone sought and obtained the court’s permission to extract data from a Nokia phone belonging to Sultana.
Having heard witnesses in the cases against Sultana and Cini, the court presided by magistrate Monica Vella ruled that there was enough evidence to serve both men with a bill of indictment.
Both the accused were remanded in custody, with their lawyer Angele Formosa told to file formal applications if they wanted to request bail.
The case resumes on March 8.
As it happened
Live blog ends
2.23pm That wraps up the day's events in court. This live blog will end here. We will have a wrap-up of the two cases available at the top of this article shortly.
Thank you for having joined us.
Bill of indictment issued
2.08pm As was the case with Sultana, the court has decided that there is enough evidence for Cini to be formally served with a bill of indictment.
The case is adjourned to March 8.
Bishop ends his testimony
2.06pm Bishop Anton Teuma is done testifying.
The prosecution asks that the testimonies of all other witnesses heard in the case against Sultana apply to the case against Cini. The defence does not object and the court accedes to that request.
2.03pm Teuma says the two accused priests were stopped from their respective ministries in August and September 2020, as the Church’s safeguarding commission continued its investigation into the claims.
Learning of victim
1.58pm After some to-ing and fro-ing over documents, the bishop is asked for details about how he knows the victim and his parents.
He says the man's mother first approached him, asking him to help her son.
Teuma says he did not ask the victim for details of the abuse, as he knew he would be asked to recount the details later and did not want him to have to go through that twice.
Bishop Anton Teuma testifies
1.47pm Gozo bishop Anton Teuma is summoned to the witness stand.
He repeats parts of the testimony he gave in the case against Joseph Sultana earlier in the day, including how the alleged victim had first told him he had been abused during a session in September 2019.
He had mentioned no names or details at that point.
Teuma says he was shocked to read reports of details of the alleged abuse.
1.45pm Azzopardi tells the court that the victim said that Cini abused him around 8 or 9 times a year, over a period of two years.
The second priest facing charges, Sultana, was also abusing him at that same time.
The victim told him he does not remember if there was more than one incident involving penetration, Azzopardi says.
1.41pm The defence cross-examines Azzopardi. The witness is asked about details in the report filed with the police.
1.40pm Azzopardi is asked whether he recognises Cini. He looks around the courtroom and spots Cini, waving at him.
Paying him off
Azzopardi says the victim had told him how Cini would give him money every time he abused him.
“The more money he gave him, the more sexual activities,” he says. “When he told him to stop, he would continue. He was violent with him.”
[The alleged victim testified last week that Cini had given him Lm5 (€11.65) after raping him on the sofa].
1.35pm Azzopardi says Cini categorically denied the accusations.
“When I mentioned the victim’s name, he said he remembered him. He said he [the alleged victim] never went to his house.”
Azzopardi: "He started asking whether it was a case of mistaken identity, and continued to insist he had done nothing."
Andrew Azzopardi testifies
1.29pm Safeguarding commission head Andrew Azzopardi returns to the witness stand.
As he did in the case against Joseph Sultana, Azzopardi tells the court what the alleged victim had told him: that he was sexually abused by Cini when he was 8 or 9 years old.
Azzopardi says the victim told him that the abuse reached the point of penetration on one occasion, at the priest's house in Marsalforn, on the sofa.
He recounts details which the alleged victim told him about the abuse.
Case against Joseph Cini begins
1.27pm The court is back in session, and it will now hear witnesses in the case against a second priest, Joseph Cini.
Bill of indictment issued
1.17pm With all witnesses having been heard, the court says that there is enough evidence for a bill of indictment to be issued.
[A bill of indictment is a formal legal document which accuses a specific person of a criminal act and leads to them standing trial for that alleged crime].
The case against Sultana will continue on March 8.
The court orders a short recess. After that, it will hear the case against a second priest accused of sexual abuse, Joseph Cini.
Defence requests bail
1.12pm Sultana’s defence lawyer is requesting bail for her client. All witnesses have testified, she tells the court.
The magistrate tells the defence to file an application to that effect.
Permission to analyse Sultana's phone
1.10pm There are no further witnesses to present in the case against Joseph Sultana today.
Prosecutors exhibit Sultana’s mobile phone – a Nokia – to the court. But the defence is objecting to an analysis of the phone, saying it is not relevant to the case.
The court gives prosecutors permission to extract messages from the device.
Requesting altar boy rosters
1.08pm The witness is asked to present records of all altar boys and their rosters during the period 2003 to 2005.
His testimony is suspended until the next hearing, when he will return with those records in hand.
Describing the church
1.01pm Fr Refalo is asked to describe the Xagħra church’s sacristy.
He describes a rather big room with a hall and a small room with glass.
The room was altered in 2010 to serve as a confession space, he says.
He adds that the large hall also features a confessional.
"The hall is rarely used and always locked," he adds.
Xagħra parish priest testifies
12.56pm Fr Refalo is Xagħra’s parish priest, and has been in that post since 2005.
He says he knows the victim.
The witness identifies the accused, Joseph Sultana, who is seated in the courtroom.
Meeting with church commission
12.52pm Fr Dominic says he met the victim again in August, and then he called Andrew Azzopardi.
“After meeting with the safeguarding commission, he mentioned the names. One of them had cases in Australia and I never saw them doing anything bad,” Fr Dominic says.
That’s all from this witness. Another priest, Fr Carmel Refalo, will be the next witness to testify.
Mention of abuse
12.47pm Fr Dominic says the victim’s parents came to speak to him in July, because he wanted to leave the cenacolo.
“I met him for the first time on July 31,” he recalls. “He mentioned abuse. I stopped him and read out the safeguarding policy of the church, as it was not confession.”
“I told him to go to the safeguarding commission and gave him Andrew [Azzopardi’s] mobile number. The victim said he did not want the case to reach the police and to have his name published in the media.
"I told him he needed psychological treatment. He decided to return to cenacolo, which is spread across Europe".
Fr Dominic Sultana testifies
12.43pm The witness says he knows the victim as he was part of a community therapy group known as a cenacolo,.
These groups are aimed at youths who have lost their way in life and consist of three-to-five year courses, with sessions lasting from 6am to 10pm.
Members say the rosary three times a day and pray late into the night.
Fr Dominic says the courses have been going on since the 1980s and have a 93 per cent success rate.
12.37pm The defence declines to cross-examine the witness. Gozo Bishop Anton Teuma is done testifying in the case against Sultana. We expect him to be summoned once again later, when the case against Fr Joseph Cini is heard.
Meanwhile, Fr Dominic Sultana has been summoned as the next witness.
Abuse mentioned in September 2019
12.35pm Teuma says he took note of the various counselling sessions he had with the victim.
He says the victim mentioned the abuse during their sixth session, which was held in September 2019.
Restricting Sultana's ministry
12.32pm Teuma says the victim had only named the accused, Sultana, using his nickname [Il-Bozz].
“There are many people who have the same nickname, so I asked him specifically who the priest was. And he gave me his name.”
Teuma says he spoke to Sultana on August 27 and told him, personally, about the recommendation to limit his ministry. He says he did not discuss the case with him.
Reporting the case
12.28pm Teuma says he kept pushing the victim to report the abuse.
“Then I became Gozo bishop and I had to report the matter [myself]. When he came to me, I told him we need to proceed. But he continued to refuse. [In July]
I asked him to write a letter stating that he did not want to report the case.”
Teuma says the two met again on August 8, and the victim told him that he wanted to proceed.
“I was happy, because I could not carry the burden of knowing any longer,” he testifies.
“I sent him to the safeguarding commission, and Fr Dominic took over.”
Opening up about abuse
12.25pm Teuma says the victim first mentioned that he had been abused in August 2019.
“I asked him whether anything had happened to him when he was younger. That’s when he replied by mentioning the abuse. He did not mention names or places.”
Teuma says he told him to report the matter, “but he refused”.
“From September 2019 to March 2020, when he left Gozo, we spoke but never about details of the case.”
The victim mentioned the names of his alleged abusers for the first time during their very last meeting, in March 2020, Teuma says.
Teuma met alleged victim 19 times
12.21pm Teuma says the victim spoke to him of problems he was having with his parents, friends and at work.
“There were emotional and behavioural problems,” he says. “He had anger problems and low self-esteem.”
Teuma says he saw him 19 times in total, but that the victim had not opened up completely.
“He did not tell me the full story that we are hearing about now,” the bishop says.
Gozo bishop testifies
12.18pm The bishop confirms that he knows the accused.
He says the victim’s parents asked him for help, in his role as a counsellor.
Timeline of events
12.15pm Azzopardi recounts the chain of events: he received a statement on August 23, 2020 and informally informed the police of it the following day, as he did not have the victim’s permission to file an official report.
He then spoke to the victim over the phone on October 27 and informed the police.
On October 29, he sent a statement to the police but the victim was abroad and could not attend a video call.
On January 19, he and the victim met at the Curia and they went to the police HQ, to file a report.
That’s all from Azzopardi. Gozo bishop Anton Teuma is the next witness.
"It's all there"
12.10pm The defence asks Azzopardi whether the alleged victim told him anything else about the abuse.
"It's all there," he replies. "The victim wrote the statement. I think I've described enough about what the victim said".
12.07pm The defence lawyer is unhappy with the way proceedings are unfolding, saying she is not being allowed to ask questions of the witness.
Her questions relate to a specific line in the alleged victim's report which noted that "there was no penetration with Fr Sultana but he used to do everything else, sexually".
The defence wanted the witness to explain what “everything else” meant, but was stopped from doing so.
12pm The witness is asked a couple of questions about the alleged victim by the latter’s legal representative, lawyer Jean Paul Grech.
He then faces cross-examination by the defence.
Azzopardi says the victim gave him details about Sultana's abuse. He proceeds to recount those details to the court.
Filing police report
11.57am Azzopardi says he met the victim again on January 19, and on that occasion the victim filed an official police report in person.
“I took him to the depot across the road from the Curia,” the witness says. “He filed a four-page report detailing the abuse”.
11.54am Azzopardi says he warned Sultana not to contact the victim or his family, but later learnt that he [Sultana] had sent him a legal letter.
He says he asked the lawyer to withdraw the letter, as it did no favours to Sultana or the Church in general.
“They did not know if there was a criminal case, but they knew we always go to the police in such cases,” he says.
Accused denied knowing victim
11.52am Azzopardi notes that he did not have the victim’s permission to mention his name to the accused.
He says he spoke to the alleged victim again in late October “to ask him if I could mention his name and if he wanted to file a police report.”
The man said yes to both.
Azzopardi: On October 29, I sent a report to the police. I met Sultana together with his lawyer the next day.
The witness says Sultana told him he could not remember who the victim was and denied doing anything to him when he was younger.
Accused's categorical denial
11.48am Azzopardi says he put the man’s testimony into writing and emailed it to him for him to see. On August 23, the man replied with his final report.
“I recommended restrictions on his [Sultana’s] ministry to [then-Gozo bishop] Mario Grech and bishop-elect Anton Teuma. I reported the matter to the police the next day.”
Azzopardi says he and the police agreed to interview Fr Sultana together in October.
“Sultana categorically denied abusing anyone in his life,” he says.
11.45am Azzopardi tells the court that he knows Fr Joseph Sultana, the accused, and that he was the person to report the alleged abuse to the police.
“I received a call from someone on August 17, 2020,” he recalls. “I happened to be in Gozo at the time. I met the victim and he told me what happened when he was 8 or 9 [years old].”
Azzopardi says the victim told him that Sultana had sexually abused him in a church confessional and another room.
“He did not want to report it to the police but he was worried that Sultana was in contact with other children,” Azzopardi says. “He agreed to report the matter to the police, without revealing his name.”
Church Safeguarding Commission head testifies
11.42am Andrew Azzopardi, who heads the church’s safeguarding commission, is the next witness.
11.41am The defence cross-examines the witness. After a couple of questions about the alleged victim and his identity, cross-examination is over.
Mgr Sultana steps off the witness stand.
Altar boy rosters
11.38am The witness tells the court about the way in which altar boys were assigned duties.
There was a roster for each mass, he says, with all altar boys attending a mass
on Sunday morning.
The roster would be drawn up by one of the altar boys periodically.
Knowing the alleged victim
11.35am Mgr Sultana tells the court that he and the accused [Joseph Sultana] go way back – they studied for the priesthood at the seminary together.
The accused had then gone abroad and eventually returned to the Xagħra parish, he says.
The witness is asked whether he knows the alleged victim, whose name cannot be published by court order.
“I know more than one person with that name,” he replies, going on to say that he knows the victim and had baptised him.
"He was not an altar boy when I was parish priest," the witness says.
First witness summoned
11.28am Mgr Eucharist Sultana is called to the witness stand. He takes the oath and begins his testimony.
Mgr Sultana was the Xagħra parish priest for more than 30 years - from 1973 to 2004.
Justice must be seen to be done
11.27am The magistrate tells the defence that article 517 is usually used to ensure people who being investigated are not made aware of that fact.
She refuses the request. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done, the magistrate says.
The court can now proceed to summon witnesses.
Defence seeks publication ban
11.24am But defence lawyer Formosa has a follow-up request. She asks the court to prohibit publication of proceedings in court until they are concluded, saying that would ensure witnesses do not know what is being said. She cites article 517 of chapter 9 of the laws of Malta.
The defence does not want the media to live blog proceedings.
Case to continue in open court
11.21am Magistrate Vella hears both sides and makes her decision: the defence’s request is refused. The case will continue in open court.
'Nothing has changed since first sitting'
11.12am Prosecuting inspector Joseph Busuttil argues that the defence's request should have come in the case's first sitting.
Nothing has changed since then, he argues, noting that the court had turned down a request for a ban on the publication of names.
"It's not the first criminal case that is being reported through a blog," he tells the court.
Request for case to be heard in private
11.08am Defence lawyer Formosa asks for the case to be heard behind closed doors.
She says live blogs on local media – such as this one – led to all testimony given during the last hearing being transcribed and published.
“The world was in the courtroom,” she says, arguing that makes it impossible for witnesses to be impartial.
Prosecutors and lawyer Jean Paul Grech, who is appearing on behalf of the alleged victim, disagree. They say the case should be heard in open court. Grech argues that the defence should have filed its request earlier.
Hearing to begin
11.03am The case has been called and journalists are allowed into the courtroom. The court will first begin with the case against Joseph Sultana, as it did last time.
Both Cini and Sultana are being represented by the same lawyer, Angele Formosa. Inspectors Joseph Busuttil and Dorianne Tabone are prosecuting.
Magistrate Monica Vella is presiding.
11am The Gozo law courts are housed in a historic building, but one that is not exactly suited to a modern-day criminal justice system.
One of its problems is the lack of a waiting area, meaning people must wait outside, exposed to the elements, as they wait for a court marshall to summon them.
That's the case today: there's quite the little crowd amassing outside the building.
Gozo Bishop Anton Teuma, who will be testifying today, arrived at around 10.30am and was escorted into the building.
10.58am Prosecutors have filed separate cases against Sultana and Cini, meaning the two men are being tried separately.
The day's star witness - Gozo Bishop Anton Teuma - will first testify in the case against one man, and then in that against the other.
10.55am Good morning and welcome to this live blog. We're at the Gozo law courts, where Joseph Cini and Joseph Sultana are in the dock to face charges of having sexually abused an altar boy almost 20 years ago.
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