A priest is being investigated for stealing a ‘relic’ from Senglea church

Police are investigating a priest who allegedly stole a ‘relic’ from a church in Senglea last Saturday.

Father Andrew Borg allegedly stole a silk beret believed by many to be a relic of Saint Philip Neri from the sacristy of the Church of Our Lady in Porto Salvo, following a religious service.

When contacted, a Curia spokesman said on Tuesday that the priest had been placed on administrative leave while proceedings were ongoing.

“The Archdiocese has been informed that a member of the clergy has been questioned by the police regarding a suspected theft at the Porto Salvo Church in Senglea,” the spokesperson said.

The beret, which was enclosed in a glass box and displayed in the church’s sacristy, dates back to the early 1900s and came into contact with a relic of Saint Philip Neri, who was born in Florence in the 16th century and declared a saint in 1622.

On Saturday, after performing a religious service, Father Borg reportedly left the sacristy with a bag containing the glass box with the beret in it, placed it in his car and went to dinner with a group of people who had just attended. at religious service. .

An individual from the church realized the artifact was missing and immediately alerted the Salesians, who run the church.

Sources said the beret was found in the car shortly after and a report was filed with police.

Father Borg, who was in charge of a small church in Ħamrun, popularly known as Tas-Samra, was removed from his post.

Pastoral care is now entrusted to the archpriest of St Cajetan parish, the Curia spokesman said.

“In the meantime, the priest has been offered access to the support structures made available to the clergy by the Archdiocese.

“The Archdiocese has also extended its full cooperation to the authorities.”

Multiple complaints

Malta weather is aware that the Curia has received numerous complaints against Father Borg in recent years, mainly for misconduct and insubordination.

Multiple sources noted that his behavior was often irrational and his actions considered absurd and illogical, indicating that he needed help.

Father Borg is no stranger to controversy. In a comment on Facebook last November, he described Emma Portelli Bonnici, a pro-choice election candidate, then PN, as a “satanic, murderer and butcher”.

Portelli Bonnici filed a complaint with the police, which she later withdrew after the curia asked Fr Borg to delete the comment and after he publicly apologized to her.

Malta weather attempted to reach Father Borg for comment by phone, Facebook and text, to no avail at the time of writing.

The Salesians have also been contacted but preferred not to comment. Police said they could neither confirm nor deny whether they were investigating.

The incident comes just weeks after Marsaxlokk parish priest Fr Luke Seguna was taken to court and charged with embezzling half a million euros over a 10-year period.

The Church of Our Lady of Porto Salvo in Senglea. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Is it a relic?

The beret has always been considered and venerated as a third-rate relic because it was in contact with the saint’s body or with the objects and clothes he possessed.

That is, until 2017, when the Vatican issued new rules that technically stripped the artifact of the sanctity of a relic.

Until 2017, the Catholic Church had three classifications for relics.

Parts of the saint’s body were considered first-rate relics. Items or clothing that the saint wore or used frequently were considered second-class relics. And any other object that was in contact with a first or second class relic was considered a third class relic.

But, in 2017, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican abolished third-class relics, reserving the title for saints’ body parts and their possessions.

Nevertheless, many devotees see the beret as nothing less than an authentic relic of their saint.

Until a few decades ago, the black beret, or as it is sometimes called, the biretta, was part of the attire of any priest. St Philip Neri probably wore it a lot in his time.

The Church of Porto Salvo contains another, even more venerated relic of Saint Philip Neri: a post-mortem mask that was fashioned in wax over the saint’s face moments after his death.

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