The punishment meted out to a priest convicted of having sexually exploited a vulnerable woman was below the minimum permissible by law, according to the Attorney General’s office.
This emerged in an appeal it filed on behalf of the police following the conviction of Fr Charles Fenech, found guilty of the violent indecent assault of a woman who was not in a fit mental state.
The former director of the Kerygma Movement was jailed for three months, suspended for a year, when according to the AG, the minimum should have been a six-month suspended jail term.
Fr Fenech was charged in 2014, and it was the Times of Malta that broke the news the priest was facing criminal charges.
He was summoned to appear before Magistrate Antonio Micallef Trigona, but 17 months after the charges were filed, the case against the priest had not yet started, as he presented on three occasions medical certificates stating that he could not attend court sittings.
The case finally took off after it became public, which was also when Fr Fenech was stopped from exercising his duties and removed from his posts.
Action was taken against Fr Fenech after the victim filed police reports in 2011 claiming that he had taken advantage of her vulnerability and forced her to perform oral sex. At the time, she was going through separation proceedings, suffering from depression and receiving treatment at Mount Carmel Hospital after having attempted suicide on several occasions.
She had sought comfort from Fr Fenech, then director of the Kerygma Movement.
Throughout the court proceedings – which were heard behind closed doors on the insistence of Fr Fenech’s lawyers – it emerged that Fr Fenech had tried to kiss her but she rejected his advances.
The victim said she had also been groped and there had been other episodes of oral sex, in her home and Fr Fenech’s convent.
Sources said that when court proceedings were well under way, Fr Fenech opted to change his plea to guilty, leading Magistrate Antonio Micallef Trigona to pass judgment. But according to the AG, this was outside the parameters laid down in the law, which sets out the minimum and maximum that a magistrate or judge can order.
The AG did not contest that Fr Fenech had been acquitted of holding the woman against her will, as there was little evidence to prove this beyond reasonable doubt.
The AG is, however, contesting the fact that Fr Fenech was acquitted of committing immoral acts in public, arguing that oral sex in a car in Buskett amounted to precisely that.
Contrary to what many believe, Fr Fenech, a Dominican friar, cannot be defrocked by Archbishop Charles Scicluna since he belongs to a religious order and technically is not the responsibility of the archbishop. The Dominican Order is based in Rome.