A Maltese priest has been suspended from the public ministry after being accused of involvement in the theft of sacred art.

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In a press release Thursday, Malta archbishop Charles Scicluna confirmed that Deo Debono had been relieved of his duties as parish priest of St. Augustine Parish in Valletta.

Debono “will not exercise his priestly ministry in public”, the archdiocese added.

The Church in Malta explained that Scicluna’s decision over Debono’s immediate future had been taken in consultation with the priest’s religious superior, Augustinian Provincial Leslie Gatt.

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The Times of Malta reported that Debono has been questioned by police over a theft at St. Augustine parish of works of art valued at 100,000 euros.

Though the theft is thought to have occurred some months ago, Debono was only picked up after an incense boat appeared in a local antiques shop.

Priests living with Debono in a local convent also reported paintings on the upper level of the house had gone missing and had been replaced by others.

As well as these “priceless” artworks, the goods stolen included various items of silverware.

Police sources quoted by the Maltese paper said Debono had confessed his involvement in the theft, but is now out on bail.

But other insiders said it is unclear what the priest’s role in the theft actually was.

“He could simply be the middleman”, sources told Malta Today.

When contacted by that paper, Debono said the accusations against him had been “embellished and exaggerated”.

What’s next

The press release from the Malta archidiocese stated that the restrictions on Debono would remain in place for the duration of the police investigation and court proceedings.

The priest will be arraigned on Monday, reports said.

In the meantime, St. Augustine parish feast celebrations scheduled for this weekend have been cancelled.

Liturgical activities at the church will still go ahead, however.

That was per the decision of Augustinian Province, which in his own press release encouraged the community to collaborate with the police investigation.

“The Maltese Augustinian Province promises all support to the Parish Community of St. Augustine and in particular all those who help the life of the parish and the festival organization”, the Order said.