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GOZO, Malta (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Maltese Catholic radio station has come under fire for featuring on its children's program a priest who has been found guilty of child abuse.
Father Jesmond Gauci, convicted of sexually assaulting three underage girls, was asked by Radio Bambina to produce a radio program for children.
Gauci, who was suspended from the priesthood in 2014, currently serves as the radio station's program manager.
The radio station, run by the Xagħra Parish Church on the island of Gozo, featured the priest in a children's program accompanied by two adolescents, two younger children and an adult woman.
The program was livestreamed on the Xagħra Parish's Facebook page on April 6, but it came to the attention of the wider public on Sunday through a report in the Times of Malta.
According to Fr. Gauci, Radio Bambina has been running for 39 years and has a community of listeners, presenters and technicians filled with energy, passion and love for the media.
Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo suspended Fr. Gauci after the grandmother of an underage girl reported him for sexually assaulting her granddaughter. Grech, in turn, reported Gauci, who had been a priest for 10 years, to the police.
In May 2014, Inspector Sylvana Gafa from the Vice Squad charged Fr. Gauci with having sexual relations with three teenage girls, defilement, corruption of morals, harassment and misusing means of communication.
Three teenage girls and their relatives testified in court that the priest, who had a "bubbly" personality and the mannerisms of a "boyfriend," had committed lewd acts with the minors. Witnesses testified that the energetic priest was very friendly with young women.
A 13-year-old victim recalled how her first abusive experience with the priest had taken place on board her parent's boat when he fondled her breasts and touched her private parts as she lay inside the cabin in her swimsuit and with her headphones on.
A second teenage girl said that the priest had tried to fondle her breasts during a family barbecue to which her parents had invited the priest. The mother noticed Gauci's inappropriate gesture.
The victim told the court that she attended private lessons with the priest and that he would pull her hair during these classes. During confession in the Santa Marta chapel, Gauci also pulled on her shirt and attempted to kiss her, the victim said.
A third victim recalled how the priest had pulled her towards him, fondling her breasts while uttering the words "cozy, cozy."
The priest also abused his victims during confession and in the sacristy, other girls testified.
The 51-year-old priest was convicted of indecent violent assault on one of the teenagers and sentenced in 2017 to a one-year jail term, which was suspended for three years. The Education Ministry barred Gauci from continuing as a teacher in a government school and withdrew his teaching license.
Two other girls testified that Gauci had sent them messages on their phones and on Facebook using phrases like "How are you sweet?" "sweety pies" and "honeybunch."
In 2021, parents complained to the University of Malta that they were "uncomfortable" with the school admitting a "dangerous" predator like Gauci as a full-time law student.
According to Maltese law, those convicted of a crime similar to that committed by the priest cannot hold a warrant to practice law.
The Code of Organization and Civil Procedure states that "no person shall be entitled to obtain the warrant unless he/she is of good conduct and good morals."
"While the university does not comment on individual cases, all students applying to join the Faculty of Law need to present a recent police conduct certificate on admission," a University of Malta spokesman said.
Xagħra archpriest Fr. Carmelo Refalo, who heads up Radio Bambina said that he viewed the radio station as an "extension of the Church."