The Vatican is yet to order the defrocking of a priest convicted of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy who had been entrusted into his care.

The decision needs to be taken by the Franciscan Order which is based in Rome and which receives its orders from the Vatican. Meanwhile, Fr Donald Bellizzi is serving time in jail as a priest.  

Bellizzi was convicted on appeal of sexually abusing the then teenage boy, who used to attend a special group for those who were keen on becoming priests.

The offences began in 2010 when the boy attended meetings to find out if he had the vocation to become a priest and lasted until he was 16 years old when he stood up to the priest and stopped the abuse.

Bellizzi, who is now almost 50 years old, had his three-year jail sentence confirmed on appeal.

Contrary to popular belief, Fr Bellizzi, a Franciscan friar, cannot be defrocked by Archbishop Charles Scicluna since he belongs to a religious order and is technically not the responsibility of the archbishop or the diocese.

A spokesman for the Church’s Safeguarding Commission told Times of Malta that a decision to impose restrictions had been taken by the provincial of his religious order following its recommendation.

“The Safeguarding Commission had referred this case to the police to investigate and restrictions, which are still in place, were immediately imposed on his pastoral ministry. A decision for a priest to be removed from the priesthood is taken by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to whom this case had been referred,” the spokesman said.

There are three totally separate branches of the Franciscan Order –OFM; OFM Cap and OFM Conv. Bellizzi belongs to the Conventual Franciscans (OFM Conv).

The Maltese seat of the Franciscan Conventual Friars said in a statement that it was “saddened” by the episode, adding that justice had been served. It said that restrictions were imposed on the man by the ecclesiastical authorities as soon as he was charged in court in 2015.

The province condemned any behaviour which goes against Catholic ethics and moral beliefs.

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