Fr Emanuel Spiteri left Australia but continued to be a priest in Malta

The Catholic Church in Australia has settled a sex-abuse complaint involving a Maltese-born priest, Father Emanuel Joseph Spiteri, who spent 35 years ministering in the Sale diocese in south-eastern Australia. In 1997, while this complaint was being made, Fr Spiteri returned to Malta, where he continued to be regarded as a priest.

Emanuel Jospeh Spiteri was born in Malta, on 26 December 1933 and studied at a Catholic seminary there before being ordained as a priest in 1960 in the Gozo Cathedral, Malta.

In 1962 he travelled to Australia on the ship "Aurelia" as a ship's chaplain and welfare officer. In Australia he was recruited by the Australian diocese of Sale (in the State of Victoria), where he worked in parishes for 35 years. In Australia he was known as "Father Manny Spiteri."

His early parishes in the Sale diocese, as an assistant priest, included: Traralgon, Yallourn, Bairnsdale, Morwell, Yarram and Trafalgar.

At some stage (about 1972) he was at St Colman's parish in Orbost, where he assisted the priest in charge (Irish-born Fr Gerard Coffey).

In 1977 Fr Spiteri received his first appointment as the parish priest in charge at Yallourn (St Therese's parish). He became the parish priest in charge at Yarram (St Mary's parish) in 1980 and then Morwell East (St Vincent de Paul's) in 1984. He oversaw the merger of the Morwell East parish with the Morwell parish (Sacred Heart) in 1995.

In 1997, aged 64, Fr Manny Spiteri left Australia and returned to Malta. At this time, a young Morwell man ("Irwin") was complaining that Fr Spiteri had sexually abused him in 1990-91 when the boy was aged about 14.

"Irwin" reported the matter to the Morwell branch of the Victoria Police Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Unit, but detectives were hampered by Spiteri's departure from Australia.

Irwin's family members say that, during these investigations, the family were harassed by some Catholic families in Morwell who were trying to cover the matter up to protect the image of the church.

The Sale diocese eventually made an out-of-court settlement with "Irwin" on the condition that he would not engage in further litigation.

After Fr Spiteri left Australia in 1997, the annual editions of the annual Australian Catholic directory continued to list him as a supplementary priest of the Sale diocese. His address was given as "retired", living in Sannat, Gozo, Malta.

Maltese publications indicate that Fr Emanuel Joseph Spiteri continued to be recognized as a priest in Malta. One Maltese source, Gozo News, reported that in July 2010 Fr Emmanuel Joseph Spiteri "celebrated his 50th year as priest". The Australian High Commissioner in Malta, Her Excellency. Anne Quinane, "attended for this memorable occasion".

Article posted 14 June 2011.

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