It was a very hot day when Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s point man on the fight against clerical sexual abuse, met Polish bishops on June 14. The temperature was as high as expectations that the word “dismissal of bishops” would come out of his mouth.
In the end, his visit may inaugurate Poland as the testing ground for the new Vatican norms on sexual abuse and cover-up.
Vox estis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”), the new pontifical law that came into life on June 1, “for the first time in the history of the Church - creates a positive obligation to denounce”- told the Maltese archbishop in an interview for Polish Television. It also protects those who report.
The title of the document was the mantra of Scicluna’s two-hour long speech and his Q&A session for Polish bishops. It may also become a sword that Scicluna brought to Poland. He thoroughly explained the law that will eventually cut heads off bishops who put their reputation first and ignore victims.
“Victims are not enemies of the Church,” Scicluna told the Polish episcopate, “but wounded sheep.”
Scicluna praised the plans and procedures decided by the episcopal conference throughout the years. But then he asked: “What are the facts?”
“He forced us to examine our conscience,” a Polish bishop told Crux after Scicluna’s speech.
Victor, survivor of clerical sexual abuse told TVP in an interview on Sunday: “What I want from the bishops is that their actions don’t deny their words. If they don’t decide to be shepherds - he stressed - it’s better that they give away their purple caps,” adding that he feels betrayed by Polish hierarchy.
Scicluna was invited by the Polish bishops last year, and many, including survivors, thought he may bring a message from the pope to the country shaken by sex abuse and abuse of power scandals revealed in the movie “Tell No One,” in which victims confront their abusers on camera.
Ten days before his trip, Scicluna had a private audience with Pope Francis.
“The pope knew I was coming to Poland, and he asked me to greet Polish people in a special way on his behalf,” he told Polish Television - “but I’m not here as his envoy.” He then added that his long-planned visit providentially happened in an important moment of the history of the Church in Poland.
“Reading the history of this great country, we see that Poland has always suffered to be faithful to Rome. Now it’s time to be faithful of what Pope Francis is asking from us,” the Maltese bishop told TVP, urging the bishops to move “from nice words to best practices.”
“I am a man of hope, I came here to do what I was asked for and with hope that people of the Church, the bishops, will also do what they are asked to do,” he said.
A survivor of clerical sexual abuse said the bishops need their help.
“I will never be a bishop, and I will never experience what they experience,” Victor told TVP. “But they will also never be where I am and experience what I experienced.”
After meeting the bishops, Scicluna came to the city of Wroclaw to work with diocesan delegates for child protection, those who are on the front lines of reporting sexual abuse in the Church. Talking to them, he appealed not only to the new rules but to more important principles.
“We deal with real people,” he told to a room full of priests. “I call your conscience - you are responsible for them.”
Again, communicating with transparency is part of the message from Rome. “We used to say in the Church: ‘Let’s not talk about sexual abuse not to scandalize.’ Well, what is now more scandalizing?” he asked. “Talking about it or covering it up?”