Missionary priest rebuts claims against him, says volunteer offered a worker beer for sex

Priest had faced claims of mismanagement of funds given to the missions

A Gozitan priest, known for his missionary service over the past 20 years, testified in detail in court today about the funding of projects in Guatemala, rebutting allegations by a volunteer who is currently facing charges for having spread false rumours about him.

“I am here with a heavy heart,” explained Fr Anton Grech upon taking the witness stand in the compilation of evidence against Luigi (Wigi) Duca, 67, from Ghaxaq, a volunteer whose regular trips to Guatemala to aid the needy in the parish of San Manuel Chaparron, ended on a sour note.

Mr Duca is facing charges of fabricating evidence of a non-existent crime, making a false report to the police, knowingly reporting Fr Grech to the authorities for a crime which he had not committed, defamation and slander.

Fr Grech told the court that following his first visit in 2007 with a group of volunteers from the Mission Fund, Mr Duca’s enthusiasm inspired him to collect funds which he then handed over for humanitarian projects intended to alleviate the suffering of his parishioners. Being very cautious when undertaking such projects, Fr Grech said he tasked a committee including a lawyer and a treasurer, to handle any funds collected through charity.

Some €65,000 donated by Mr Duca were intended to build houses consisting of two rooms and a toilet, with cement flooring and metal roofs. However, trouble was sparked off when out of the intended 55 housing units only 28 were built. 

Mr Duca had claimed that Fr Grech had not made proper use of the funds entrusted to him.

But Fr Grech said he had always updated his benefactor on the projects undertaken and would have willingly shown Mr Duca detailed accounts had the latter only asked.

Although originally the houses were estimated to cost some Lm500 (€1,150), in actual fact the costs were much more since each house was larger than originally planned. This explained why only 28 units had been built so far.

Fr Grech said a further €7,575 were used to inject a new lease of life into a local school which had risked shutting down. Instead, thanks to the funds collected by Mr Duca, the Collegio Madre Teresa flourished, its 30 pupils increasing to 300 within a few years.

Fr Grech also rebutted claims of misappropriation of money handed over by Mr Duca for the setting up of a second chicken farm for egg production. He explained that since he had been advised against the feasibility of such a project, he had instead invested the funds in purchasing new livestock for the already existing farm which had been funded by the Xaghra parish.

Reference was also made to a publication entitled ‘Bicca Minn Hajti fil-Gwatemala’, written by Mr Duca and featuring Fr Grech, whose consent to the work had never been sought. Sale of this publication generated some €16,000 with which Mr Duca had intended to furnish the homes built in Guatemala.

When Fr Grech refused to go along with this plan, pointing out that there were more pressing needs to be addressed through the funds, such as elderly and hungry parishioners, Mr Duca was not pleased. During a visit to South America in December 2015, Mr Duca distributed leaflets outside the church, alleging that Fr Grech had misappropriated the money.

“I always forgave him. Wigi Duca did a great deal of good but then he spread false allegations to tarnish my reputation,” Fr Grech explained in court.

Matters appeared to come to a head when Fr Anton faced the volunteer over certain moral issues. Mr Duca apparently had a taste for alcohol, putting wine and whisky in a container of provisions shipped to Guatemala.

The priest said he had also learnt that Mr Duca had even paid a prostitute in kind, offering her beer in exchange for sex. He had even offered a foundation worker $200 for sex, doubling his offer when she refused and masturbating in her presence when she held firm. Warning the man not to “undo all the good done” Fr Grech  said he had asked Mr Duca to stay away from Guatemala, but to no avail. 

The case continues.

Inspector Anne Marie Xuereb prosecuted.

Lawyer Marion Camilleri was defence counsel.

Lawyer Kathleen Calleja Grima appeared parte civile.