A priest has claimed blackmail as he was charged with defiling a 15-year-old girl with whom he was having a sexual relationship for the past four years. 

The 40-year-old priest, whose name cannot be published by court order, pleaded not guilty to engaging in sexual activities with the woman when she was still a minor. The sexual activities allegedly took place in June 2017 when the girl was still 15. 

As he stood in court wearing a black suit and the priesthood's white collar, the priest pleaded not guilty to defiling the girl and to participating in sexual activities with her. 

Police inspector Joseph Busuttil told Magistrate Josette Demicoli that the police began investigating the case recently when the woman, who is now 19, was referred to the police by the church's Safeguarding Commission.

She reported how she had been in a sexual relationship with the priest and that the consensual relationship began when she was 15. 

The inspector said the alleged victim told police they had performed various sexual activities but there was no intercourse. He was charged with committing the offences in the few months before she turned 16, which is the age of consent.

Defence lawyers Benjamin Valenzia and Steve Tonna Lowell claimed that their client was being blackmailed by the woman who was not allowing him to end the consensual relationship.

They said the woman told the priest to marry her, impregnate her and leave the priesthood, warning him that otherwise, she would go to Archbishop Charles Scicluna and the police to report him. She also threatened to tell his elderly parents about the matter.

The prosecution confirmed this blackmail, adding that the accused had got himself into a vicious circle and could not get out of it. 

The court accepted a request for a ban on the publication of both names and on certain details which could lead to their identification, to protect the identity of the alleged victim.

Magistrate Demicoli upheld a request for bail against a €1,000 deposit and a €7,000 personal guarantee. She also ordered the priest to stay away from all witnesses in the case. A protection order was issued in favour of the alleged victim and her family.

Police Inspectors Joseph Busuttil and Dorianne Tabone prosecuted. 

Reaction

In a statement following the arraignment, the Safeguarding Commission said it took the necessary action, without prejudice, to safeguard all parties and passed on the case to the police to investigate. 

It said it followed the principle that every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The commission encouraged all who know about any alleged abuse to report directly to the police and to contact it on info@safeguarding.mt .

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