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Silence is not an option | Mgr Charles Scicluna

He was the Vatican’s chief prosecutor on the sex abuse crimes of the clergy. Now he is Malta’s auxiliary bishop. And now that he’s in town, he won’t just stay put. Mgr Charles Scicluna on civil unions and the Church.

Matthew Vella
11 November 2013, 12:00am
Scicluna calling a spade, a spade: ‘If the government wants gay marriage, it should say so.’

There's fire in the portly Charles Scicluna, the auxiliary bishop whose diminutive stature belies not just his independence of mind, but the fact that he had been the Vatican's chief prosecutor on the sexual abuse cases that rocked the Catholic Church ever since 2002. For years he stood by the side of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, when the latter headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the successor to the Roman and Universal Inquisition - and in its modern incarnation, Scicluna served as a latter-day Bernardo Gui, an enforcer for the Roman pontiff and a hunter of sinners.

When Benedict XVI announced Scicluna's appointment to auxiliary bishop, it was believed that a man who had done his job well on the Vatican's hard-line stance against sex abuse was being punished through a "face-saving promote and remove" tactic. But as Scicluna himself said before leaving Rome, "if you want to silence someone, you don't make him a bishop". And silenced, he won't be, having blogged and tweeted his views on, most recently, gay marriage and the sale of citizenship. "Why are you so vocal - why are you entering the fray in this manner?" I tell him as we end our interview at the Curia in Floriana. "Because Charles Scicluna's in town, and that's who I am," he responds, very matter-of-factly.

Canadian-born, the 54-year-old had to relinquish his citizenship under a Labour government in the late 1970s because Malta did not yet accept dual nationality. You can understand why the sale of citizenship under the IIP, approved in the House yesterday by a new Labour government, is a sore point for Scicluna. "Apart from the fact that a Bishop will always remain a citizen and will always enjoy the right to express himself as a normal citizen, given that he has also a say in democratic society, the Church cannot shy away from giving input with respect on issues that concern the common good. I have a great respect for citizenship, which is my bond to my homeland and to my country, and I feel that when you put a price on such a bond you are not necessarily doing citizenship and what it means the best of services."

This kind of forthrightness, his belief that the Maltese archdiocese's leaders should not shy away from public affairs, is perhaps the cleric's most refreshing of qualities. He struck a sharp contrast with what sounded like a muted response from Archbishop Paul Cremona and Gozo bishop Mario Grech (a man whose evangelical zeal is more pronounced than most) to the legislative conundrum on gay unions: remarkably visited upon MPs without a whimper of opposition, Scicluna decided to step in and represent the Catholic electorate with a more vocal stance.

"It's my duty, personally, to at least explain [the Church's teaching]. In our first statement we said the Church's teaching was clear. The problem is whether it is known: that's where my initiative comes from. Now it is a mission of the Bishop to make what is clear, known. I find I need to pass on the message: it has to be true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it has to be clear, and we need to pass on the message."

Scicluna says the Bill will always be deceptive in that it employs the term 'civil unions' when the draft law itself states that its object is equate unions and marriage. "If the government wants gay marriage, it should say so. I understand the party in government did not promise gay marriage, so it doesn't feel it has this mandate. But that is something that should be discussed in parliament: why is government introducing gay marriage under a convenient label?"

But nobody else seems to be willing to stir up this debate in the aftermath of an election where 'liberal' issues proved to be the PN's Achilles' heel. He concedes that after the bitter divorce campaign of 2011, there is a numbness in Maltese society. Now soul-searching, opposing civil unions for gay couples is also the last battle the Opposition would want to enter into. But Scicluna says that, some hate-mail apart, he will keep making his point no matter how uncomfortable his presence may be. "I cannot simply shut up."

He says that a little ferment of opposition to civil unions has started trickling into the newspapers' letters pages, even through the eerie silence worries him. "Helena Dalli promised a White Paper1 and instead chose to bring forward a draft law hatched by LGBT people in a closed shop, the consultative council. And they decided to open the unions to heterosexual couples, and proposed to legislate for gay couples, which also affects children, without consulting the Commissioner for Children. This took people by surprise and it is not what the government promised. It is something else by a different name."

Scicluna points to the UK's law on same-sex marriage, whose Fourth Schedule specifically points out that the meaning of "sex" in a gay marriage cannot be compared to the act itself in a heterosexual marriage. And this meant also changing obligations pertaining to the consummation of marriage or adultery. Scicluna reverses the spirit of this law by way of attacking the equation of marriage and gay unions in the Maltese law: "I hope the Maltese bill will be changed at committee stage so that the law does not impose upon gay couples the impediment of impotence, not to impose the consummation of the civil union within three months of celebrating it... because how do you consummate the marriage of a woman with a woman?"

And here I am dumbstruck for a few seconds, asking him why the act of sex in the marriage would be of concern. "The defining element of marriage as a union between a man and a woman is in a simple word, sex," he says. "The sexual aspect of a marriage union expresses the bond of true love, which according to Thomas Aquinas is a love of friendship. But marriage is not only about friendship and love. It is about love that expresses itself in the oneness of flesh, as Scripture expresses it, 'they will become one flesh'. This is the way Scripture talks about sexual intercourse, and sexual intercourse with openness to the gift of parenthood is essential to the definition of marriage. One understands that when we talk about consummation of a same sex marriage, the idea does not make sense because two people of the same sex cannot become one flesh in a union that is open to parenthood."

Critics would argue that there is a social element in the creation of the family that is not just defined by the function for procreation. But Scicluna's line of reasoning takes him straight to where he wants to arrive at: if gay couples can get married to form a family, it stands to reason that they will also adopt children. "And the Maltese politicians know that the majority of people are against adoption."

But isn't gay adoption a better alternative to fostering inside orphanages - themselves places that do not necessarily guarantee a strong emotional formation for children (I also suggest that it was Catholic orphanages like the MSSP's St Joseph Home that, years later, produced harrowing stories of sustained child sex abuse). So shouldn't orphans be brought up in households that can offer better emotion and material security?

"I would agree fully with your last statement. In fact, the attitude and policy of the Roman Catholic Church has always been to decrease the number of orphanages, not to increase them. We have persons, young adults or young people who cannot be housed in a normal household because they are not accepted or because these are not available at the present time, we do not leave them on the streets."

But Scicluna still insists that it is a "normal household with a man and a woman, a father and a mother, or adoptive parents that substitute the natural parents" that offers the best environment for bringing up children. "This is something that we cannot change, this is how we are made, this is how we grow up, and this is how we come to be. We have a mother and a father and the ideal situation is that we are brought up in an environment which as much as possible recreates the natural environment."

He says the talk of adoption and the question of natural environment reminds him of the saga of the 72 eggs laid by the tortoise on Gnejna beach, and he offers an example which merely illustrates his own characterisation of gay families: "The tortoise came to the place where she was born and she laid 72 eggs. She made her own natural nest. Now we decided to create another nest for them. It did not tally with the natural nest of the mother. The result was that the 72 eggs did not hatch because the creatures did not have enough air. I think this is a parable of what happens when we do not follow the pattern of nature and we try to create nests that are not what nature intends."

Earlier on in the interview, we had been discussing the effects of Pope Francis's interview to La Civiltà Cattolica, in which the new pontiff opined that the Church's customary fixation on sexual morality had clouded its mission. Scicluna says he agrees with Francis. "We have a duty to present the Gospel in its fullness and richness. And the Gospel is not simply about morals and values, but also about the son of God becoming man for our wellbeing and redemption. Fundamentally, it's a message of mercy and compassion. And I think the Pope's ministry is putting that [message] forward in a very beautiful and impressive way."

"In talking about the balance between the moral code - which comes from the Gospel - and the Gospel of mercy, I do agree we must find an equilibrium and balance when it comes to the way we preach the Gospel, and that we cannot discount the moral imperatives of the way we preach the Gospel of mercy and compassion. They go hand in hand."

He describes Francis as an intelligent communicator, and that the difference with his predecessor is a question of style rather than substance. "Benedict is a timid personality and a great thinker, and a great theologian. Francis dedicated much of his pastoral ministry in a diocese as a bishop, and he had had to work with daily challenges and respond to the daily problems people face. And that gives him a street wisdom that contributes greatly to the freshness of style that he has brought to the papacy."

Scicluna had suggested, in previous reports carried by the Italian Corriere della Sera that Benedict had carried out his own coup d'etat by decapitating the papacy in a bid to pave the way for a successor that could handle some of the Vatican's inside detractors and 'third parties' implicated in the Vatileaks scandal and blackmail of high-profile bishops.

While Benedict preoccupied himself with the moral relativism of European society, Scicluna says a challenge for the Church remains the fact that postmodern society finds it difficult to accept moral, absolute values. "If any individual is the criterion of what is good or bad, then we cannot agree on what is a way forward as a society...  Jesus says 'I am the way, the truth and the life'. No Pope is going to discount these words. No statement can be more absolute than that."

"In his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), Benedict says being a Christian is not about a strict code of ethics or conducts, but about meeting Jesus Christ as a person. You listen to him, hear him tell you 'follow me', and he will test you at the end of time when he will ask you whether you gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, cloth the naked, visited the sick and prisoners - very concrete things, very basic things - it's actually a law that teaches you mercy and compassion in a very concrete, daily way. That is the criterion of how we will be judged. Christ does not do away with judgement, but speaks of mercy."

As Scicluna shows, this is a church that can neither be monolithic nor withstand the various strands of thought cohabiting inside it: Dominican friar Mark Montebello, for example, who last week said the Church was moving towards its own extinction, saying that after "shooting itself in the foot" with its immersion into the divorce opposition movement, it is now repeating the same mistake on civil unions. So is it possible keep the Sciclunas and Montebellos of the Catholic world in the same church? Is this faith's church a closed club or a fluid movement?

"There's a very beautiful image in the Gospel of Peter pulling a net full of different fish onto the shore and the other Apostles help him bring home this catch of fish," Scicluan says. "The number indicated in the Gospel corresponds to all the different species of fish known 2,000 years ago. That's a sign of the universality of the Church. The Church is universal but united in one faith. It's not uniform, it's Catholic because it is a home where everybody has his own views and has his own way of life that is called to one faith, one baptism, and also one hope, which is Jesus Christ. That is the most important focus in being a Christian."


A spokesperson for Minister Helena Dalli says: Mgr Scicluna says "Helena Dalli promised a White Paper and instead chose to bring forward a draft law". Minister Dalli never said that the government will publish a white paper on civil unions. She always spoke of a Bill. It will be appreciated if we all stick to facts.
Matthew Vella is editor of

After graduating in a...

Antonia Xerri
The clergy should refrain from stating rules about what is a family and where children belong. They have no reference point for raising children and being a parent. They also have a nauseating history of abuse of children in their care.
Mario Monti
Bhala cittadin ghandu dritt jiftah halqu kemm irid Il-Mons, imma hadd ma ghandu jipretendi li natghu kasu. Il-knisja zammet ir-relevanza taghha ghax dejjem ipproffitat ruha mill-miskin, mid-dghajjef, mill-orfni, mill-anzjani. U ghandha tirringrazja lid-destin li dawn l-"imsieken" jibqghu jezistu ghax bis-sahha taghhom nies li jilghabuha tal-qaddisin issibu x'jaghmlu u jhossuhom importanti. Huma dawn l-isfortunitajiet u tbattijiet li tofri d-dinja, hafna minnhom kawzati mir-rejba tal-potenti, inkluzha l-knisja nnifisha, li zammew il-Knisja relevanti. Mhux l-isfortunati jirinzrazzjaw il-Knisja imma l-Knisja tirrinzrazzja lill-isfortunati talli jzommuha 'in big, profitable business'.
Polly Bonello
Suppost li Mons Scicluna, li hu kwazi daqsi, jiftakar is-song 'Silence is golden'jekk le ahjar imur daqsxejn retro fil-Pop, ghalkemm ma nissegerilux imur retro fil-politika tal-knisja ukoll! Jien kattolku /agnostiku; imma paroli u pregudizji bhal ta Scicluna zgur li ma jaghmlux gid: hlief lil xi partit!
Dear Jimmy, do you remember reading that someone somewhere washed some persons' feet thus expressing humility? Well, we have come a long, long way since then; and I do not mean the "howling jackals" either! Go back to reading religious make believe novels.
Lawrence Galea
Why have you remained silent on the illegal immigrants about whom we know absolutely nothing who marry a Maltese woman and after getting Maltese citizenship they abandon her and the children leaving them as a burden on us? How many such cases have been brought before the church Tribunal? How many cases of bigamy were found by the Church Tribunal involving illegal imigrants?
kenneth azzopardi
Silence is not an option where was Mgr Scicluna when the curia was covering up the sexual accusation of fr godwin scerri, where was he when an arrest warrant was issued in Canada for his arrest on sexual abuse and is still pending today. Now he was to give us advice on morality and how to govern our country go and tell your sheep these words before they are massacared.
Basil Borg
'Silence is golden' The local Church is not exactly the meek Papa Frangisku! Enough harm has been done with the politicking of previous bishops and archbishops and todays political priests: do we need an other version of all that from Mons Scicluna? Please not again!
charles philip zammit
everyone is entitled for an opinion but when the person expressing the opinion is non other than a leader of an organisation he has to tread the grounds cautiously. unfortunately bishop scicluna,s tongue seems to be longer then himself. well he was appointed a sex prosecutor by a pope who opted to terminate his career abruptly. moreover i can still remember that at first he offered his simpaty to those that were sexually abused by priests in malta but then when the question of financial compensation turned up he seemed to have abandoned these souls..again this bishop can throw punches but we are not christ we will not turn the other cheek....we have had enough torquemadas in the sixties in malta .....
Jimmy Galea
What a howling bunch of blockheaded wolves this pack of 'commentators' are. In a few hundred words, Bishop Scicluna has offered more wisdom and understanding than you rabid lot could put together in a hundred years. Keep snarling, you disgusting, mindless jackals, while others shake your dust off their feet and move on
The good Mgr chooses his options to fit his agenda. Bully for him! But the Maltese citizen is not the naive fidil he/she once was. Now they are informed about all the many bad things performed by the church in Christ's name, AND by its officials. The people may now judge! And do you blame them for bypassing all that hogwash?
godwin xerri
"Silence is not an option" jekk trid tkun credibli mons(li mintix) din il frasi, int of all people immisek tuza ghal kollox, mhux fejn jaqbillek bis, mintix xi cuc mons, nahseb taf ghal xix qiad nirreferi.
Give to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar and what is to God to God. These are civil matters Mgr and you should respect that. Don't mix religion in these matters.
eddy privitera
If this Bishop wants to embroil the local Church into another self-destructing "battle", so be it ! But I note that both Archbishop Cremona and Bishop Mario Grech have learned the lesson, that the Maltese people TODAY are not the Maltese people of the 60s !Mgr. Scucluna seems to believe that time has stood still since then !
John Agius
In history the arrival of a small in a big hat is rarely good news.
Polly Bonello
The Church whom Mons Scicluna represents used to sell 'soul's redemption from the Purgatory. We all remember: 'For every copper (penny) to the coffers goes: a soul to heaven goes'. Silence then, was not an option either. Anyone who said anything negative about the purgatory, the 'moral police' of the Inquisitor, would take you to court -(a modern day human rights court)!!!- and most probably tortured him unless he confessed! The same psychological torture was used in the 30's and 60's whee anyone who wanted divorce or the separation of the Curia and the State, could not vote for Strickland or for Labour without commiting 'mortal sin'! Kien hemm hafna fidili li emnuhom dawn il-moral police!
Joe Borg
If Silence is not an option, Why have the Curia Arch-vescovo-vili KEPT ITS SILENCE in the Cases of CHILD ABUSE? Can you EXPLAIN These stories Dear Bishop CJ Scicluna! Don't you think this is more important than the Maltese citizenship Issue? Priest Charged with Child Rape Still Wanted in Canada An arrest warrant issued by Canadian police against Fr Godwin Scerri on charges of child sexual abuse back in 1993 is still valid, which makes him charged in two countries with sexual offenses. News of Fr Scerri’s alleged sex abuse history resurfaced earlier this month, revealing the Curia’s knowledge of his dubious past as reported 10 years ago in the Canadian newspaper The Windsor Star and the Maltese newspaper KullHadd. THE CURIA WAS ALSO REPORTEDLY INFORMED ABOUT THE CANADIAN ARREST WARRANT BY THE ONTARIO POLICE, APART FROM MEDIA REPORTS PUBLISHED AT THAT TIME. Yet: The Education Division also confirmed to The Malta Independent on Sunday that the Curia had assigned Fr Scerri as spiritual director at Can. P. Pullicino Girls’ Secondary School in Rabat, IN FULL KNOWLEDGE OF HIS DUBIOUS PAST, a year since his charges were made public. He remained working there with children until late last September. “Fr Scerri was hand-picked by the Curia, which selects spiritual directors for our schools,” an Education Division spokesman said. Following his return to Malta, Fr Scerri was also assigned by the MSSP at the San Domenico Savio oratory for youths in Birkirkara, as well as St Joseph’s Home for boys in Santa Venera. So Dear Bishop CJ Scicluna,I suggest you: "LAY UP YOUR CITIZENSHIP IN HEAVEN WHERE NEITHER DUST NOR RUST CORRODE" as THE LORD SAID :P
Glor Findel
If sex is so important to consummate a marriage as he is now stating, why then does the church still wed elderly couples who obviously cannot commit this act or conceive?!? Is this not DECEPTIVE of the church??? ... Why did you go on Xarabank and so humbly beg for forgiveness of the gays Scicluna?!? ... You are such a hypocrite and a real FACCOL that is all you are, now doing the dirty work that the cowardly PN is too afraid to do. ... Best you went back to Rome whence you came from, oh but wait your patron is no longer there as well, so one wants you. ... And talking of the 'good' work you were doing in Rome, what was it exactly?!? Our own victims here in Malta can probably sing you a song about the great compensation they received from the church in Malta, but oh yes you were so sympathetic to their stories and oh yes you listened to their woes, BUT WHAT DID THEY GET??? NOTHING!!! ... so that is all you are good for a lot of talk spreading hatred and your lies -- because that is what they are YOUR lies since you are measuring with two scales. I was a follower of your church, but no more. You Scicluna has taught me to hate your church. So enjoy it your moment of glory Hypocrite because it will soon be over!
Charlie Borg
I appreciate this bishop voicing out his views. He has every right. However he has no right to expect that government policies be changed just because of his opinion. I don't remember voting for Mgr Scicluna in March 2013, or for any other representative of the Catholic Church for that matter.
'Canadian-born, the 54-year-old had to relinquish his citizenship under a Labour government in the late 1970s because Malta did not yet accept dual nationality.' So? Even I had to relinquish my Canadian citizenship in 1995 under a PN government! Then after a couple of years, dual citizenship was granted to the children of Maltese immigrants also. The word I got from the Canadian Embassy in Rome was that this practice was not legal but it would take me a few years and a lot of money to take my case to court. So, I guess both governments did not handle these affairs correctly.
Alf Galea
If you were doing so excellent a job in such a high position of prestige of the world's major Religion, why were you sent packing to this little holiday island place, and let's be frank, of minimal importance and not to a major world city? Tell it to the marines Mgr. Scicluna.
Oh yes, Silence is not an obtion, NOW, because it was during PN's administrations !!. Who do you think you're trying to fool, mons?. Keep on the destructive work which will continue to see the haemorrhage of the failthful. You must be feeling in seventh heaven. Good luck mons.
People like bishop scicluna represent fully what is wrong with the catholic church today. Thank God for pope francis and his efforts to rid the church from these troglodytes.
Mario Attard
Mgr Scicluna, Silencs is not an option , I fully agree with you, but for everything not just those things that you wish to talk about. How about going back to the 60's when, labour supports were sent to hell by the then Archbishop. When our families had to emigrate because we didn't used to get work because of our political believe. and quite recently when my wife for church intervention about a frame up and the bishop visited the family who did the frame up instead of visiting the victim. What are you going to do about those children who wanted to go to private schools and because their families were doctors, lawyers or some other professionals were left out, and told there is no place. Was this part of being a Christian ???
Anthony Busuttil
Mons.Scicluna is trying to remove attention from the heat which the Maltese church is in. Example the court cases for dames instituted by people who where abused while being trusted in the care of God's representatives on earth.about the thousands of people not bothered to attend Sunday mass or any church services.About the profit the Curia and the APS bank made,what is the plan of Mons. Scicluna to distribute this among the needy. Mons. Scicluna should ask Pope Francis about his advise. Pope Francis recently said that we have wasted too much time running after contraceptives and gays. What Mons. Scicluna is doing about all this?
Lawrence Galea
Can Mgr Charles Scicluna please tell us whether he is concerned about the illegal immigrants marrying Maltese women without having any knowledge of their past and getting Maltese citizenship after 5 years without paying anything and after getting Maltese citizenship they leave their wife and children to be taken care courtesy of the Maltese taxpayers? Can he also tell us why he is so against the IIP when the applicants are to be screened apart from paying while we have no real screening of illegal immigrants about their past? Can he also tell us how many cases has the Church Tribunal had concerning illegal immigrants marrying Maltese women and then leaving them after getting Maltese citizenship? Can he tell us how many bigamy cases have been discovered by the Church Tribunal of illegal immigrants who marry again a Maltese women and then are discovered to have been already married? Waiting for Mgr Charles Scicluna answers.