Fr David Muscat to be charged in court with hate speech

Times of Malta [Mriehel Malta]

January 7, 2022

By Mark Laurence Zammit

Fr David Muscat will be charged in court with hate speech and misuse of technology over his disparaging comments on gay people.

Police have filed charges of hate crime over two comments that the priest posted to Facebook this week.

In one of the comments, Fr Muscat spoke about the possibility that murder suspect Abner Aquilina was gay, bisexual or possessed by the devil and said “gayness” was worse than being possessed.

The other comment was posted underneath a photo showing the murder suspect wearing a colourful shirt. Fr Muscat commented that he looked like he was just coming back from ‘gay pride’.

Police may have deemed this comment illegal for implying that people who attend gay pride are criminals.

Fr Muscat is scheduled to appear before Magistrate Ian Farrugia on January 28.

He could be released on conditional discharge or given a suspended sentence, but these charges could also see him pay thousands in fines and at worst, land him in prison for up to 18 months.

He will be charged with contravening article 82A of the criminal code, most recently amended last year, which states that “whosoever uses any threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour […] against another person or group on the grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, colour, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief or political or other opinion or whereby such violence or racial or religious hatred is likely, having regard to all the circumstances, to be stirred up shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term from six to eighteen months.”

He will also be charged with misusing electronic communications equipment, and that could cost him a fine of up to €23,000.

Following his comments, Fr Muscat received a barrage of hate speech himself and sources said the comments may be breaching the same laws, and that Fr Muscat is considering reporting them to the police.

What led to this?

Fr Muscat was called to the police headquarters on Thursday afternoon, shortly after several activists, Equality Minister Owen Bonnici and Inclusivity Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli demanded police action against the priest.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Charles Scicluna issued a formal warning against him, instructing him to stop making “inflammatory and hurtful comments” or else he could be stopped from exercising his ministry in public.

Canon law experts told Times of Malta that the ecclesiastical warning is formally known as ‘Monitum’. It is issued by the diocese bishop as a reprimand condemning an action by a clergy member.

It also warns the priest that if he repeats the same behaviour, the bishop reserves the right to take further disciplinary action, such as removing his right to say mass in public.