Amidst a growing global concern over the Church’s handling of abuse cases and cover-up, Pope Francis has appointed the Vatican’s former top prosecutor on cases of clerical sexual abuse, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, back to his former office, though the prelate will continue heading the church in Malta.
The decision to name Scicluna adjunct secretary, meaning the third most important official, of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Faith (CDF) was announced on Tuesday, and it follows a year in which the prelate was tapped by Francis to lead a thorough investigation of the situation of the church in Chile.
Among other things, the CDF handles accusations of abuse against clergy, and Scicluna also serves as president of a board of review for abuse cases in the office. He had been a full-time member of the CDF until 2014, when Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to Malta.
At the CDF Scicluna worked under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and the two are credited with the sentencing of thousands of abuser priests, including the late Mexican Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, in 2006.
As a result of the first of two investigations led this year by Scicluna and Spaniard Jordi Bertomeu, an official at the CDF, Francis acknowledged he’d mishandled the situation in Chile, apologized to survivors and summoned the bishops to Rome, who resigned en masse after that meeting.
Francis has accepted the resignations of seven of the 34 active Chilean bishops, and is expected to accept several more, including that of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, Archbishop of Santiago and one of eight prelates who’ve been subpoenaed by the local prosecutors’ office under charges of cover up.
Scicluna will be replacing American Archbishop Joseph Di Noia, who’s retiring from his position.
Speaking to reporters in early October, during the month-long Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment, Scicluna reaffirmed his long-standing support for stronger accountability measures for bishops who fail to respond appropriately to abuse allegations, saying prelates in the synod realize “we are accountable not only to God but to our people,” underlining the concept of “stewardship.”
Pressed to answer what he would say to people who doubt Francis’s resolve on the abuse scandals, he said simply: “Give him time.”
Referring to an upcoming February meeting gathering presidents of all the bishops’ conferences in Rome, Scicluna said he’s not in charge of organizing it, but he expects it to be an opportunity for prelates from different cultures to come together and realize that this is not “a problem linked to any culture or geographic part of the world, as used to be said. That is a myth that has to be dispelled.”
The prelate said bishops need to “empower ourselves and our communities to disclose abuse and address its roots.”
“The pope talks about clericalism as the source,” he said.
Clericalism, Scicluna said, means “looking at ministry as a source of power and not of service. We need to tackle questions of formation of clergy, screening of clergy, cooperation with civil authorities, but also the empowerment of our lay communities.”
Tackling sexual abuse within the Church, Scicluna said, is not only a matter for clerics to resolve, but one that concerns every member of the Church.
Despite the thousands of cases he’s personally dealt with, Scicluna said that there are a lot of holy priests in the Church, who are working every day in the parishes and “teaching young people to live the Church. These are the things that truly matter and that give us hope.”
The pope’s decision to appoint Scicluna back to the CDF was applauded by survivors, including Chilean Juan Carlos Cruz, who’s one of three who visited Francis earlier this year in the Vatican.
Sharing the news of the appointment on Twitter, the survivor said Scicluna “has proven that he cares for survivors and this tragedy of abuse and cover up in the church. Today I have more hope that we are moving in the right direction.”