Hisphoto hanging in the Gozo Cathedral Library as its major benefactor andhonorary president and distributed among the world for totallydifferent reasons, 72-year-old Fr Anthony Mercieca has managed to dojust what his superiors have tried to hide for ages.
For years now,the Maltese and Gozitan curias have been sweeping under the carpet someof the most serious allegations of child abuse by members of the clergyand religious people, shelving files of reported cases in their obscureand secretive internal tribunals, away from police investigators anddoomed to remain in the darkest ecclesiastical corridors unless thevictims find the courage to report their cases to civil authorities.
Speaking to American journalists, Fr Mercieca has, by Maltese andGozitan standards, talked too much. So much that he found himselfamending, clarifying and censoring his own statements in one interviewafter another, after his alleged victim referred to his abuse â€œby aclergymanâ€, until his lawyer finally convinced him to just shut up.
In his original interview as reported by the Sarasota Herald Tribune,he admitted massaging the young altar boy and now former RepublicanCongressman Mark Foley in the nude back in the 1960s, but would notspecifically remember having sex with him. He also told them he wentskinny-dipping with the boy at a secluded lake and being nude in thesame room on overnight trips, though he could not remember what he didon one particular night when he was in a drug-induced stupor.
â€œI have to confess, I was going through a nervous breakdown,â€ thenewspaper reported Mercieca as saying from his home in Victoria, Gozo.â€œI was taking pills â€“ tranquilizers. I used to take them all the time.They affected my mind a little bit.â€
Then came his bombshell. He said he taught Foley â€œsome wrong thingsâ€related to sex without specifying what he meant exactly, adding that hestill had â€œgreat memories of our tripsâ€.
â€œI wish him well,â€ Fr Mercieca said. â€œLet bygones be bygones.â€
Call him naÃ¯ve, but coming from omertÃ -ridden Gozo, Fr Mercieca isreally a blessing in disguise for all the Maltese victims of clergyabuse. As scores of journalists from the international media campoutside his house, his case is bound to mark a turning point in the waythe Maltese and Gozitan curias treat cases of reported child abuse bytheir priests.
In all fairness, it is the first case to be faced by the new Bishop ofGozo, Mgr Mario Grech, and the first signs show he has nothing to dowith his ageing Maltese counterpart Mgr Guzeppi Mercieca.
Mgr Grech immediately contacted the Archdiocese of Miami, which wasresponsible for Fr Mercieca at the time of the alleged abuse, in starkcontrast with Archbishop of Malta who has steadfastly ignored warningsfrom foreign dioceses about priests who had child abuse records andwere named and blamed in the foreign and national press.
Mgr Mercieca was in fact responsible for handpicking Fr Godwin Scerri,among others, who after learning of child abuse reports to Canadianpolice was rushed to Malta and posted as a spiritual director in agirlâ€™s secondary school in Malta. He was also serving at the St JosephHome in Santa Venera, where a decade since his escape from Canada hethen faced fresh charges of child abuse of children who lived at thehome together with another two priests.
Mgr Mercieca and his medieval public relations machine have always beenin denial when faced with child abuse allegations. They cite legalisticarguments, justifying their silence on the grounds that once a case isin court it is â€˜sub judiceâ€™ â€“ a favourite among criminal lawyersdefending the indefensible. They insist on confidentiality simply todismiss any sort of commitment in public, while dioceses abroad issuepublic apologies, urge other alleged victims to come forward with theircases and take immediate steps to defrock the alleged abusers eventhough legally they would still be innocent.
And they fork millions in compensation to the victims â€“ something theMaltese church has never done and has refused to do ever since thefirst Maltese case of clergy paedophilia ever emerged.
The international spotlight on Gozo is surely adding to the heat in MgrGrechâ€™s diocese, but so far he has acted promptly and appropriately,pledging full cooperation with the authorities so that justice is doneâ€“ something Mgr Mercieca has always refused to do and opting instead tobury his internal inquiries and leave it up to the police to fish forclergy abusers.
The Archdiocese of Miami did not mince its words, saying it wasdistressed by the revelations disclosed by Fr Mercieca. â€œSuch behaviouris morally reprehensible, canonically criminal and inexcusable. Theevents described are totally contrary to the ministry of a priest,â€ thechurch said.
And in light of these revelations, Miami Archbishop John Favaloraimmediately withdrew Fr Merciecaâ€™s faculties and initiated an internalinvestigation.
â€œAn apology is due to Mr Foley for the hurt he has experienced,â€ MgrFavalora said. â€œWhile it was long in coming, with Godâ€™s merciful gracethis painful revelation can be the beginning of reconciliation and aninstrument of redemption and healing for Mr Foley.â€
Finally, it had to be the little island of Gozo to rock the Maltese church into the real world.
1986â€“ Fr Louis Scerri, a Jesuit and teacher at St Aloysius is silentlyremoved from the order after reports of abuse of his students surfaceto his superiors. He is eventually posted at a girlsâ€™ junior lyceum inHandaq and then at a government school in Mosta, facing criminalcharges of child abuse later on
1993â€“ MSSP member Fr Godwin Scerri is rushed to Malta from Canada as soonas child abuse allegations are filed to the Ontario Provincial Police.The Curia takes his denial and stops investigations, but he is stillconsidered a fugitive of justice facing charges of sexual assault onminors in Canada. Incredibly the Maltese Archbishop posts him asspiritual director of Can. P. Pullicino Girlsâ€™ Secondary School inRabat upon his return. Ten years later he faced fresh charges of abuseof children at the St Joseph Home in Santa Venera
2002â€“ Fr Louis Scerri, who was serving at the San Gejtanu parish in Hamrun,stands accused of raping three minor sisters from Mosta. The Curia saysit is not responsible for him
October2003 â€“ Fr Godwin Scerri, Fr Charles Pulis and Br Joseph Bonnett, allmembers of the Missionary Society of St Paul, are charged in criminalcourt of abusing and raping children at the St Joseph Home in SantaVenera
October 2006 â€“ Fr AnthonyMercieca of Gozo is named by disgraced US Congressman Mark Foley ashaving abused him 40 years back in South Florida when the latter wasstill an altar boy