Curia Knew about Priest’s Alleged Sex Abuse History since 1993
Fr Godwin Scerri’s Paedophilia Charges in Canada Relate to 1983
By Karl Schembri
The Malta Independent [Malta]
Downlaoded October 17, 2003
A priest who is now facing charges of rape and sexual abuse of a child at St Joseph’s Home in Santa Venera had already faced charges of child sexual abuse that he allegedly committed while in Canada between 1983 and 1987, before he allegedly abused children in Malta.
According to a Canadian paper, the Maltese Curia was informed about the charges by Canadian authorities.
Fr Godwin Scerri, 67, a member of the Missionary Society of St Paul, was reported by Canadian newspaper The Windsor Star on 24 June 1993 as facing “sexual assault charges if he ever returns to Canada” following a warrant of arrest issued by the Ontario Provincial Police.
The report carrying the title, “Accused priest remains in Malta”, had said that Fr Scerri was wanted by the Canadian authorities in connection with charges of sexual abuse filed by a 22-year-old man. The man had alleged that he was sexually abused by Fr Scerri while the priest was in Emeryville and on Pelee Island between 1983 and 1987. Fr Scerri was a priest at St William’s Church in Emeryville at that time.
The Ontario Provincial Police had said back then that they issued a warrant for the arrest of Fr Scerri after London diocese officials said they couldn’t force Fr Scerri to return to Canada from Malta. The Windsor Star report said that the Maltese Curia had been informed of the charges, including sexual assault and gross indecency, adding that Fr Scerri had refused to return to Canada.
Only three months after The Windsor Star’s report, KullHadd picked up the story and published the charges against Fr Scerri in a front-page report on 5 September 1993.
KullHadd had followed Fr Scerri’s steps back here in Malta and reported that he was working at the San Domenico Savio oratory in Birkirkara with adolescents and youth. He was also working at St Joseph’s Home in Santa Venera.
The Archbishop’s Curia had confirmed to KullHadd that it knew about the allegations “but only through foreign newspaper reports” while former MSSP Superior General Fr James Bonello had told the media that “MSSP carried its preliminary investigations and it resulted that the priest in question always denied the allegations against him both in Canada and in Malta”.
Fr Scerri is now facing paedophilia charges together with Fr Charles Pulis and Br Joseph Bonnett in a child abuse scandal that rocked the Maltese church over the last weeks. Fr Scerri is the only one who is also facing charges of rape with violence. The three religious members are expected to appear in Court on 28 October in front of Magistrate Saviour Demicoli behind close doors.
Some cases of child abuse reported to the Maltese police go back to around 1983 and have been allegedly ongoing until this year with other children, until the priests involved were reportedly removed from contact with children.
At least 11 children were allegedly sexually abused by the priests at the institute for children in Santa Venera, at the MSSP’s summer residence in Marfa and at St Agatha’s convent in Rabat. The reports carried by The Windsor Star and KullHadd in 1993 state that both the Curia and the MSSP knew about the allegations in Canada but they still allowed Fr Scerri to work with children at the institute upon his return, at the society’s youth oratory in Birkirkara and elsewhere.
When contacted yesterday, the Director of St Joseph’s Home, Fr Silvio Bezzina, said he could not answer questions about Fr Scerri in 1993 as he was not in a position of authority back then.
“I don’t know what happened at that time,” Fr Bezzina said.
He added that the Superior General of that time is now on a mission in the Philippines.
The MSSP’s new Superior General, Fr Bernard Mangion, could not be reached by the time we went to print yesterday.
The Malta Independent sent the following questions by e-mail and fax to the Curia’s Public Relations Officer, Charles Buttigieg, on Wednesday evening.
1. What did the Curia do in relation to Fr Scerri upon his return to Malta from Canada?
2. Did the Curia investigate the alleged abuse committed by the said priest in Canada?
3. Why didn't the Curia prevent Fr Scerri from coming into contact with children upon his return?
4. The Malta Independent has a report that Fr Scerri worked at a government school in Rabat with young children until this year. Why didn’t the Curia inform Education Division about his dubious past?
5. By withholding this information wasn't the Maltese Curia permitting the possibility of abuse with Maltese schoolchildren?
6. How could the Curia allow a priest with such an allegation work with young children?
7. What did the Curia do about this case since 1993, when the case was made public?
8. Given that the Response Team was not yet established in 1993, what did Archbishop Joseph Mercieca do about this case?
9. Doesn't this case prompt the Curia to revise its policy of secrecy in such cases and adopt a similar policy to that of the Diocese of Portsmouth - which adopts a policy of transparency in such cases?
9. Why should the Archbishop's request for a pardon be taken seriously when (or rather, if) nothing was done for 10 whole years about clerical paedophilia?
Mr Buttigieg replied later yesterday: “The person you mention in your questions is now being charged in court and so his case is sub iudice. In view of this, I cannot answer your questions.”
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