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By a Broken Rites researcher
In 2010 a former altar boy in Australia (who will be referred to by Broken Rites as Mr X) launched a civil lawsuit against the Catholic Church, alleging years of abuse by a priest. And it has been reported in 2010 that another alleged victim (let us call him Mr Z) died by taking his own life.
The priest, Father Joseph Emmanuel Lewis Sultana, was born in Malta and was ordained as a priest in 1962. According to church publications, he ministered in South America before turning up in Australia, where he was recruited by the Cairns Diocese in the state of Queensland. The Cairns diocese says that, about 1997-98, it "removed Father Sultana from the ministry" but the diocese is coy about the reason for this "removal". Fr Sultana then returned to his native Malta, out of the reach of Australian police.
From 1998 to 2010, the Cairns Diocese presumed that the story of Father Joseph Sultana had been successfully buried. But the launching of the former altar boy's civil action in 2010 has finally alerted the public to the Father Joseph Sultana affair.
The former altar boy, Mr X (aged 38 in 2010), lodged documents at the Queensland Supreme Court, targeting two Catholic Church bodies:
Another priest was toldIn court documents, Mr X says that in 1982 he told a prominent Cairns Diocese priest about the abuse while the abuse was still very recent but Mr X alleges that this priest became angry with the boy (then aged eight) and accused him of lying before ordering him to visit a school nun, who gave him corporal punishment for "lying". Broken Rites has checked the 2010 edition of the annual Australian Catholic directory and this angry priest is still working in the Cairns Diocese, with senior responsibilities. This priest (who is named in the court documents) is not alleged to have been involved in the sexual abuse — merely in the cover-up. The nun who punished the boy is now deceased.
Thus, it is alleged, the boy's complaint about Fr Sultana never reached the police — and the church's public image was protected.
Shortly after this cover-up at Atherton, Father Sultana was transferred to another parish — St Teresa's at Ravenshoe (a country town in the Cairns diocese). A church publication, entitled The Years Between 1953-1985: Catholic Youth Movement, gives an example of Father Sultana's activities in Ravenshoe. It describes a visit by a youth group to Father Sultana's home at Ravenshoe in the early 1980s. The author wrote: "On Sunday, 17 March, Atherton Catholic Youth Movement had an outing to Ravenshoe. We visited Father Sultana, our previous branch chaplain before his appointment to Ravenshoe, and then went to Millstream Falls. After a swim it was back to Father Sultana's for dinner."
Father Sultana continued as a serving priest in the Diocese of Cairns for another 15 years. In the 1988 edition of the Australian Catholic directory, Broken Rites finds him listed as the parish priest in charge of St Anthony's, Dimbulah (another country parish). He was still listed at Dimbuila in the 1997 directory.
However, in a 1998 directory published by the National Council of priests, Fr Sultana was listed (with three other Cairns Diocese priests) under the heading "On Leave or Overseas". His name did not appear at all in any directories in subsequent years. This indicates that Fr Sultana had left Australia by early 1998.
Three bishopsDuring his time in the Cairns diocese, Father Joe Sultana worked under three bishops:
In a sworn affidavit and statement to police, Mr X said he and his wife reported the abuse to the Cairns diocese in November 2009.
In a statement to the Cairns Post daily newspaper (published on 1 November 2010), Bishop James Foley said that the Church "hopes to reach a satisfactory resolution of this matter" with this complainant [i.e, Mr X].
Mr X's legal actionMr X is suing the Catholic Church for a large sum. According to the Cairns Post, this claim includes amounts for: general damages; future economic loss; past economic loss; and Mr X's legal costs.
In a statement of claim lodged in the Queensland Supreme Court by his lawyers, Mr X, says the alleged acts of abuse by Father Joseph Sultana from February 1979 to November 1981 at Atherton's St Joseph's Church led to a life of sadness, a sense of loss and grief, social isolation and severe psychiatric symptoms.
The Church is not yet required to lodge a defence until certain pre-court procedures have been completed, such as securing expert medical opinion.
Mr X's statement of claim alleges the Roman Catholic Church and Sisters of Mercy in the Diocese of Cairns failed to prevent the alleged abuse by Father Sultana and did not act on his complaint about the abuse.
The claim says that in 1982 Mr X told another priest of the Cairns Diocese about the abuse.
Mr X's statement of claim says: "The plaintiff was subjected to numerous acts of sexual abuse by Father Sultana and these acts took place whilst the plaintiff was changing into and out of his altar boy garments in a room at St Joseph's Church, Atherton."
"The Church respectively failed to prevent the predatory and sexually abusive conduct of Father Sultana when they were well aware of the complaint to [the other priest] and [a nun at the parish school], and ought reasonably to have been aware of the unusual circumstances whereby the plaintiff was closeted in private in the presbytery of Father Sultana on a regular basis during school lunch breaks."
Another man took his own lifeAccording to Cairns Post articles in 2010, another man alleged in 1998 that he was abused by Father Sultana at the same school and church in the early 1980s. This man (Broken Rites will refer to him as Mr Z) took his own life at his North Queensland home in 1998 — around the time that Fr Sultana left Australia.
In his statement to the Cairns Post on 1 November 2010, Bishop James Foley confirmed that "the first suggestions of child sexual abuse [by Fr Joseph Sultana] were raised with me, by the original complainant [i.e., Mr Z], on 24 July, 1998, after I had already removed Joseph Sultana from ministry for other reasons." Bishop Foley's statement says that, by then, "Joseph Sultana had returned to Malta and only law enforcement authorities could compel his co-operation in any investigation of the complaint."
Thus, the story of Fr Joseph Sultana was successfully buried for 12 years — until Mr X launched his civil court action in 2010.
Broken Rites believes that the Catholic Church authorities have some explaining to do: