Two former Xagħra priests were recently charged with sexually abusing an altar boy, but a third clergy member who served in the same parish managed to escape similar charges despite the Church deeming the allegations credible.
Eucharist Sultana, a former Xagħra parish priest, was suspended from the priesthood in 2018 after being accused of sexually abusing a former altar boy over 16 years earlier.
He allegedly groomed the boy for four years, summoning him for sexual encounters in return for gifts. The abuse is believed to have lasted for four years and ended when the victim was 17 years old.
The Church’s Safeguarding Commission referred this case to the police, who launched an investigation. However, a police spokesperson has now confirmed with Lovin Malta that they were legally prohibited from prosecuting Sultana because the case was time-barred.
“Kindly note that The Malta Police Force was informed about the allegations in 2018 by the Church Safeguarding Commission. Investigations started immediately by the Vice Squad. However, criminal action could not be taken regarding this alleged incident since it was already time-barred in 2018,” a police spokesperson said.
Crimes in Malta are subject to time-barring, which means that no action can be taken against a person if the alleged crime took place outside of a prescription period.
This period varies according to the severity of the crime, ranging from three months for contraventions and verbal insults to 20 years for severe crimes.
The sexual abuse of a child is punishable by a maximum of eight years imprisonment, meaning that it is time-barred for a maximum of 10 years from the last incident of abuse.
This can go up to 15 years if the crime involved aggravating factors, such as if the abuse was continuous, carried out by a family member, or if the child was younger than 12.
A spokesperson for the Church’s Safeguarding Commission told Lovin Malta that an internal investigation concluded that the allegations against Fr Sultana were deemed credible.
“The case was referred to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by the then Bishop of Gozo in order to start a canonical penal process,” he said. “Since then, his public ministry remained restricted which means that he could not celebrate Mass or administer any of the Sacraments in public or have any contact whatsoever with minors.”
“In November 2020, the Vatican concluded that Fr Sultana’s public ministry will remain restricted permanently. In this case too, the Safeguarding Commission had referred the case to the Police.”
Xagħra’s parish hit the news last week after two priests, Joseph Cini and Joseph Sultana, were charged with sexually abusing an altar boy several years ago. Cini has also been charged with raping the boy, who was eight years old at the time.
The victim, now in his 20s, has described in disturbing detail how Cini had regularly forced him to masturbate him in return for money and how he had once raped him at his house.
Meanwhile, Joseph Sultana would sexually fondle him inside the parish hall or sacristy.
Last week, police summoned Eucharist Sultana as a witness in their case against the two accused. He confirmed that he had served as Xagħra parish priest for over 30 years and had baptised the alleged victim, but that he wasn’t an altar boy when he was in charge of the parish.
Both Sultana and Cini are pleading not guilty.