“He used to threaten me and use force when I refused. I often tried to run away but he would hold me down. He would force me in, telling me I’m going to hell or that he was going to speak to my parents.”
These were the harrowing words of a former altar boy who was allegedly raped by priest Joseph Sultana.
In an urgent testimony via videoconferencing, the victim – who was eight years old at the time of the alleged abuse but is now no longer a minor – went into disturbing detail that had him visibly emotional, even bursting into tears at one point.
“The first time it happened was a Sunday,” the unnamed victim said, going on to point out that the abuse happened moments before the morning mass. While the act was not restricted to one specific place, this first instance happened inside the Xagħra parish church confessional.
“I don’t remember how I ended up in there. I don’t remember if I asked for confession or if he pushed me in there.”
Remaining an altar boy until he was 15 years old, the victim said the abuse happened over the period of “a year to 18 months”, and that it left him feeling “very uncomfortable”. It is believed that, even though he now lives abroad, the victim was actually mere metres away from the courtroom, testifying from another room within the Gozo law courts to protect his vulnerability.
The victim went on to detail other disturbing moments, such as the priest being “violent” with him and holding him down as he tried to run away.
“He would take me into the confessional. He started by touching me over my clothes. Then it was underneath.”
But the confessional wasn’t the only place which the victim said he was abused in, with the sacristy of the Xagħra parish church and the parish’s main hall also being mentioned.
The case – which happened years ago – is currently being heard right now, with new disturbing details emerging every couple of minutes.
When asked about the frequency of the abuse, the victim said the priest would force himself on him “whenever he felt like”, and that it would last “two or three minutes.”
The priest, now-84-year-old Joseph Sultana, has pleaded not guilty to raping the victim. Sultana, a well-known figure in Xagħra and its parish, was arraigned in court this morning in Gozo.
He is one of two priests arrested yesterday evening after hours of interrogation. The other was Joseph Cini, a priest in his 70s and ex-parish priest of Għasri. He will be arraigned separately.
Joseph Cini was previously accused of child abuse in Australia but refused to return to the country to face the accuser, who was also a former altar boy.
Earlier this morning, the victim said he had initially reported the two priests to Dun Anton Teuma – who his now Gozo’s bishop – around two years ago.
Teuma had directed him to the Church’s Safeguarding Commission, he continued.
The Gozo Curia said the allegations in Australia seem to be unfounded, but it had brought the case to light after submitting a report to its the Safeguarding Commission.
Following this morning’s arraignment, the Curia asked all victims of abuse to report to the police and the Safeguarding Commission if it involves the Church.
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