The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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‘Demonic’ rape trial: Exorcist tells judge he saw no satanic activity at home

Wednesday, 11 January 2023, 15:32 Last update: about 2 years ago

An exorcist has told a judge he saw no demonic activity at a house where a man is accused of having manipulated a vulnerable family into performing depraved sex acts.

Fr John Vella, a Capuchin Franciscan friar, appointed an exorcist in 2005, testified before Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera as the accused's trial entered its third day.

The accused had allegedly pretended to channel a demon, ordering a mother and her daughters to perform his bidding. The accused, who cannot be named on court order, was the boyfriend of the youngest daughter, who was underage at the time.

Testifying on Wednesday, Vella said he had not encountered a demonic presence during his three visits to the house.

Lawyer Francesco Refalo, prosecuting together with lawyer Angele Vella, asked about the victims' family.

Vella said the mother had contacted him first and subsequently her husband would occasionally visit him too.

"Her youngest daughter would also come sometimes, her boyfriend, too," he said, identifying the accused by name. However, he could not see him in court due to problems with his eyesight.

The priest explains that he cannot reveal what was said under the seal of confession, and would only testify about what the mother had spoken to him about outside the confessional, in the presence of her husband.

She had participated in rituals, he explained. "They all said they were hearing voices... the mother and husband wanted me to bless the house."

He described the house's interior as "upside down" - a mess. The floor was strewn with broken glasses, and other objects.

He had blessed the house on his first visit. Amongst other things, they had told him that a grandfather clock had moved by itself to block the corridor, he recalled. On his way out, a clock had fallen off the wall, he said, but could not be certain that it had not simply fallen for non-supernatural reasons.

Answering a question from the judge, he said that he didn't feel any particular spiritual presence inside the house during his visits. 

Vella had paid a second visit to the house to celebrate mass. He could not recall whether the accused was there but was certain that the mother was present, as was a second man who was described as a friend of the mother's. "I know he [the friend] was at Mount Carmel with the mother. They told me he was trying to help the family."

"Did anything happen during the mass?" asked the court.  "I noticed nothing," he replied.

To be sure that there was no demonic presence in the house and to reassure the family occupying it, he had gone together with another priest, to carry out the solemn ritual of exorcism.

"We didn't notice anything [amiss]," reported the exorcist. "The parents, the accused and his girlfriend were present."

The judge asked him whether he ever suggested they seek medical care. "Of course," he replied. "The mother had told me that she was already under medical care. I would advise her not to... communicate with the supernatural, spirits and other things. I believe that the spiritual aspect also needs the psychological. She told me that she had been to Mount Carmel several times."

Terrified of the voices

The priest had spoken to the mother and the father individually, while the children had contacted him over the phone.

"The accused would speak to me, as would the youngest daughter and the mother. They were all terrified. Terrified of these voices that they were hearing."

The father had told the priest about an incident involving a stand fan flying across the room.

Asked by the prosecution whether there were any voices or not, the priest insisted he never heard anything but the family told him there were voices.

Exorcist cross-examined

Defence lawyer Mario Mifsud then cross-examined the witness. The lawyer suggested to the priest that a Marian devotion would repel a demonic presence.

Vella replied: "Not only. You must also be in a state of grace. If you play with spirits, you are inviting him [Satan] in too."

The lawyer asked whether the invoking of spirits brought with it an increased risk of being the subject of curses or suffering.

"Let me tell you. When you pray to God's spirit, you instantly feel the contentedness, because you are close to God. When you pray to evil spirits, you will naturally feel bad. What keeps him at bay is prayer and the sacraments," Vella responded.

He had felt the need to celebrate Mass, and subsequently carry out an exorcism at the house because the family's complaint had persisted, despite the initial blessing, said the priest.

The lawyer asked whether any member of the family had ever told him, in private, that they suspected a human being was behind the voice. They hadn't, he replied.

Mifsud then asked: "Had [the youngest daughter] ever told you in private that you were coming to bless the house for nothing because the voice is the accused and she was too scared of him to say so?"

"I don't believe I ever spoke to her alone," Vella said.

Accused's interrogation played in court

The audio-visual recording of the accused's police interrogation was played in court. Inspector Eman Hayman, Inspector Oriana Spiteri and the accused's then defence lawyer Jason Azzopardi were present during the interrogation.

Inspector Hayman is heard telling the man that his girlfriend's sister had gone to the police station together with social workers and had detailed his threats.

The accused replied that he had no clashes with her. But then he recalled one incident where he was allegedly assaulted. "One time, she had punched me and another time she had slapped me in the face. On one occasion, we had been downstairs and my girlfriend and her mother had seen her punch me."

The accused was seen in the recording denying using the deep voice, even when confronted with the claim that his girlfriend had confessed to seeing him making it. He told the police he and his girlfriend had seen glasses breaking by themselves.

It wasn't just the women who were ordered to perform menial tasks by the voice, he said. It sometimes ordered him to clean the garden, or stay in his room, he claimed.

"The voice wouldn't always be the same," he said, adding that it spoke in Maltese and other languages which he didn't understand, but not English.

The interrogators accused him of fabricating the story to avoid the consequences of his actions and of having conspired with his girlfriend to mislead the police. They both said the exact same thing in the exact same way, inspector Hayman pointed out. The accused denied this.

Asked about his sexual relationship with the girl, who at 14 was still a minor, the accused told the police that the sex was always consensual. "I never forced her."

The accused told the police that his girlfriend's older sister had told her that he was a paedophile. He was asked what he had done after that.

"I didn't want to cause trouble. It's her opinion, if she wants to believe I'm a paedophile... I was a bit hurt, but I didn't let it affect me," he told interrogators.

Accused spoke to mother

Towards the end of the interrogation Inspector Hayman asked the accused whether he forced the mother to change her version of the broom incident.

"We didn't force her. We reminded her... she's known to have a very bad memory," the accused replied on tape. "She talks a lot with her children."

"What was worrying you?" the interrogator pressed.

"That she might have accused me of doing things that I didn't do. I wanted her to be sure before she says things," he replied.


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