Priest Charged with Child Rape Still Wanted in Canada

By Karl Schembri
The Malta Independent [Malta]
Downloaded October 26, 2003

An arrest warrant issued by Canadian police against Fr Godwin Scerri on charges of child sexual abuse back in 1993 is still valid, which makes him charged in two countries with sexual offences.

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in Lakeshore confirmed to The Malta Independent on Sunday that the warrant for his arrest for child sexual abuse is still valid and will only be revoked by a Canadian court. If he ever returns to Canada, Fr Scerri, who is considered a fugitive, will be arrested and will have to face a trial, an OPP spokesman said. He said Canadian police did not plan to request an extradition of the priest.

The Canadian authorities’ information contradicts statements reportedly made by Fr Scerri himself to Maltese police investigators who are now charging him with sexual abuse and violent rape of a Maltese child at St Joseph’s Home for boys. According to last Sunday’s KullHadd, Fr Scerri told the Maltese police that charges against him in Canada had been dropped by the alleged Canadian victim.

A member of the Missionary Society of St Paul, the 67-year-old priest is expected to appear in front of Magistrate Saviour Demicoli together with Fr Charles Pulis and Br Joseph Bonnett on Tuesday to face charges of paedophilia and abuse of at least 11 children.

News of Fr Scerri’s alleged sex abuse history resurfaced earlier this month, revealing the Curia’s knowledge of his dubious past as reported 10 years ago in the Canadian newspaper The Windsor Star and the Maltese newspaper KullHadd.

The Education Division also confirmed to The Malta Independent on Sunday that the Curia had assigned Fr Scerri as spiritual director at Can. P. Pullicino Girls’ Secondary School in Rabat, in full knowledge of his dubious past, a year since his charges were made public. He remained working there with children until late last September.

“Fr Scerri was hand-picked by the Curia, which selects spiritual directors for our schools,” an Education Division spokesman said.

Following his return to Malta, Fr Scerri was also assigned by the MSSP at the San Domenico Savio oratory for youths in Birkirkara, as well as St Joseph’s Home for boys in Santa Venera.

While questions sent by The Malta Independent on Sunday to the Curia two weeks ago about the way it dealt with Fr Scerri back in 1993 remain unanswered, the Archbishop’s Public Relations Officer, Charles Buttigieg, did admit that the case was closed for the Curia after the priest had denied the accusations to his MSSP superiors.

Without referring to Fr Scerri by name, Mr Buttigieg told The Malta Independent on Sunday that when the curia’s Secretariat for the Clergy “came to know that a religious priest who had previously been accused of child abuse in another country was serving as a spiritual director at a particular girls’ school” it rested its case on the priest’s own denial of the charges.

“Exchanges followed between the Secretariat and the religious superior of the religious priest concerned, whose religious order had investigated his case,” Mr Buttigieg said. “The kind of information that was made available to the Curia Secretariat at that stage regarding the alleged child abuse was (a) that the religious priest concerned had always strongly denied the allegation against him by one person; (b) according to investigations carried out by the religious order the evidence available did not show a probability that the alleged abuse did take place”.

The Curia was also reportedly informed about the Canadian arrest warrant by the Ontario Police, apart from media reports published at that time. Mr Buttigieg would not answer whether the Curia had contacted Canadian police about the case, nor whether it had contacted the alleged Canadian victim. Despite the Curia’s knowledge of the charges, Mr Buttigieg said “the Curia was not involved”

The MSSP’s “investigation” itself was, however, concluded, on the basis of Fr Scerri’s denial that he ever abused children in Canada.

Mr Buttigieg admitted that spiritual directors receive no special formation to work with children in schools.

Asked why doesn’t the Curia address a press conference and answer questions publicly about this scandal, Mr Buttigieg said the Curia will only do so “if and when” it feels it should do so.

Asked why the Curia should be taken seriously when it asks for pardon when it emerges that it tried to hide cases of alleged sex abuse, Mr Buttigieg said the Curia “strongly objects to the defamatory allegation”.

However, Mr Buttigieg would not reply why the Curia hadn’t compelled Fr Scerri to return to Canada and face criminal charges there in 1993, in line with the priestly “vow of obedience”. Nor would he reply how was children’s protection ensured by the Curia letting him remain in Malta and work in active ministry with children.

The Curia is also keeping absolute silence about whether it will seek to defrock Fr Scerri from the priesthood, in the light of the criminal charges filed against him in two different countries. Asked whether the Curia’s response team had contacted Canadian police or the alleged Canadian victim, Mr Buttigieg refused to answer.

The Curia’s legal advisor, Paul Mallia, said the Archbishop will only speak about Fr Scerri after a court sentence is delivered.


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