St Joseph’s Home Abuse Victims File Constitutional Appeal, Compensation Case Suspended

By John Cordina
Malta Independent
May 14, 2015

Proceedings on a compensation claim filed by 10 victims of sexual abuse at St Joseph’s Home in Santa Venera have been suspended after they filed a constitutional appeal in their bid to have the case assigned to a different judge.

Two former priests, Carmelo Pulis and Godwin Scerri, were jailed for six and five years respectively in August 2011 after they were found guilty of sexually abusing boys in their care. Mr Scerri was acquitted of violently raping a boy on a technicality: the incident did occur, but not in the location mentioned in the charge sheet.

A third defendant facing similar charges, Br Joseph Bonnet, died months before proceedings were concluded. The two priests were defrocked following their conviction, and while they appealed the case, the sentence was confirmed on appeal.

The 10 victims sought financial compensation, but meetings with the Malta Archdiocese put paid to the possibility of an out-of-court settlement. The Curia rejected legal responsibility for the sexual abuse carried by two of its priests, although it said it was willing to provide counselling to the victims.

Consequently, in 2013, the 10 men filed a civil suit against the two former priests, the Missionary Society of St Paul they formed part of, the Archbishop of Malta and the government.

The case was assigned to Mr Justice Joseph R. Micallef, and a number of sittings have already been held.

Earlier this year, however, the victims’ lawyers, Patrick Valentino and Franco Vassallo, filed an application in court to request that Mr Justice Micallef abstain from the case, pointing out that the judge was the president of the Assocjazzjoni Radju Marija. While the radio station is not owned by the Malta Archdiocese, it is dedicated to broadcasting religious programmes: its base of operations is the Dominican convent in Rabat.

Last March, however, Mr Justice Micallef turned down their request, stating that there was not a valid enough legal reason for him to stop hearing the case.

The victims ended up filing a constitutional case last week, claiming that their rights were being violated by Mr Justice Micallef’s refusal to abstain from the case, and the first hearing should be held by Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti on 30 June.

In a sitting held today, Mr Justice Micallef said that in light of this case, proceedings will be suspended until a decision is reached.








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