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Priests lose sex abuse appeal

Guilty verdict is ‘reasonable’

Two former priests yesterday sat impassively as an appeals court judge confirmed a magistrate’s decision to send them to jail for sexual abuse crimes committed against children in their care.

Godwin Scerri, 75, and Charles Pulis, 64, bothformer members of the Missionary Society of St Paul, were sentenced in August last year to five and six years’ imprisonment respectively for sexually abusing 11 boys in their care at St Joseph Home in Sta Venera some 20 years ago.

Mr Justice David Scicluna spent two hours reading out a meticulous and studied judgment. The men were then led away surrounded by six police officers and taken in a prison van to begin their jail term.

The case first came to light in 2003 when the victims and, namely, Lawrence Grech, who became the unofficial spokesman for them, spoke up about what went on in the home when he was a teenager.

The victims present in court told reporters afterwards that while they still considered their abusers as parents, they would not forgive them for what they had been put through.

Mr Justice Scicluna went through all the testimony and evidence and waded through the arguments presented by the defence lawyers Giannella de Marco and Joseph Giglio.

Although not altering the jail term, the judge found Mr Scerri not guilty of abusing one of the boys because he had proved that he was not in Malta when the crime was meant to have taken place.

In the case of Mr Pulis, the judge found that the charge involving another victim ought to be dropped because it was time barred.

Referring to one of the main arguments used by the defence team, that the whole case was the figment of the “extraordinary imagination” of Mr Grech, the judge asked: “Why? What reasons could lead this court to believe this theory?”

He said that it was suggested by the accused that the allegations were borne out of hatred towards the Church or the clergy or the promise of money.

But, he added, would such reasons really push individuals to subject themselves to public suffering when victims usually tried to hide the fact they were abused.

“It was alleged that Mr Grech liked the publicity and played the victim but what about the other men?” the judge said.

Although some of the victims’ actions were contradictory, the judge said court did not speculate about their motivations but relied on the evidence that was presented.

Mr Justice Scicluna noted the contradictions in Mr Grech’s actions, adding that on one hand he made serious allegations and yet on the other kept in close contact with his abuser.

He remained close with Mr Pulis for many years after the abuse, the judge said.

Yet when testifying, Mr Pulis said Mr Grech had pent-up anger towards him without qualifying why. This, the judge said, signified anger because he was abused.

In conclusion, the judge said that after reviewing the evidence, the Magistrates’ Court legally and reasonably reached a guilty verdict.

In deciding on punishment, the judge took into consideration that both men had psychological and medical problems and asked the prisons director to take all the necessary precautions to ensure that they would receive appropriate care.

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