Charles Scicluna | Vatican’s ‘demotion’, or a crutch for Malta’s archbishop?
The Italian press surmises over how the promising career of the Maltese prelate is being suspended while he assists Archbishop Paul Cremona in his pastoral mission.
8 October 2012, 12:00am
Sectors of the Italian press are ruminating over a possible 'demotion' in the decision to have Monsignor Charles Scicluna appointed auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Paul Cremona, after the 53-year-old prelate conducted the Vatican's most assiduous of prosecutions against paedophile cleric
For years by the side of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Scicluna, a canon lawyer, was entrusted by Pope Benedict XVI since before the death of John Paul II to handle the prosecution of priests accused of child sex abuse.
"He carried out this role very differently to others, both within the Vatican and outside," Iacopo Scaramuzzi, a journalist from the independent online newspaper Linkiesta wrote of Scicluna. "With determination, humanity and without diplomatic hesitation... the Maltese prelate had shown himself, in all these years, to have been a great man."
In the words of La Stampa's Andrea Tornelli, whose Vatican Insider blog broke the news of Scicluna's departure, Scicluna "embodied the line of zero tolerance of sexual abuse against minors, adopted by Benedict XVI and supported the Pope's efforts to change canonical laws and existing laws and above all, the mentality: he placed special emphasis on the suffering of abuse victims and promulgated a series of 'emergency' laws.
"Not surprisingly, these special laws sparked an internal debate in the Holy See."
And so a grand career in the Vatican appears to have been somewhat punctured by his appointment to the side of Archbishop Cremona, without any official explanation from the Papal office: not a promotion within the Vatican or bishop coadjutor with the right for succession, but a return to his native Malta (as well as titular bishop of San Leone) after years spent as chief prosecutor in what was once know as the Holy Inquisition.
On his part, Scicluna's prosecution of paedophile priests was deemed to be a thorough and humane campaign, albeit never an overzealous one. One of his most clamorous coups was the prosecution of Marcial Maciel in 2006, the Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ who was revealed to have abused boys, maintained relationships with at least two women and fathered up to six children.
But he was vocal in promoting greater cooperation between episcopal offices and the civil authorities in the prosecution of clerics suspected of paedophilia, and made public his discomfort at the lack of suitable anti-paedophilia guidelines across the Catholic world.
Addressing a Vatican-planned conference on abuse held in February 2012 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, he used the word "omertà" in rapping "a deadly culture of silence" on abuse. "Other enemies of the truth," he added, "are the deliberate denial of known facts and the misplaced concern that the good name of the institution should somehow enjoy absolute priority to the detriment of disclosure."
Also true have been the changing circumstances that predated Scicluna's departure from the Vatican. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where Scicluna was its promoter of justice, only recently welcomed a new prefect - Gerhard Müller, Archbishop of Regensburg - a personal friend of Benedict XVI and a student of Gustavo Gutiérrez, the "father" of Latin-American liberation theology with whom he has a long and close friendship.
Succeeding Scicluna's old boss Cardinal Levada back in May, Müller said the Church had to regain unity and halt the "growing polarization between traditionalists and progressives... Unity in Christ, not a unity produced according to a programme and later invoked by a partisan speaker."
But apart from speculation that Scicluna's time in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had expired under Müller, reasons closer to home hint at the state of Archbishop Paul Cremona's health.
There is sound reasoning that as auxiliary bishop Scicluna will be actively assisting Cremona in his pastoral mission. Speculation over Cremona's health started after his absence from public events was compounded by rumours that his predecessor Joseph Mercieca, and Gozo bishop Mario Grech had taken the lead in carving a harsh pastoral letter hitting out at attempts by legislators to offer in-vitro fertilisation on the national health system.
The Curia confirmed that Cremona had cancelled his public commitments, which he has now resumed, albeit gradually, after having been advised to rest. MaltaToday was informed that Cremona received doctor's orders to take time out of his schedule after a strenuous and trying year of public activity.
"To report that Archbishop Cremona is out of action is to say the least an exaggeration and also does not correspond to the truth," the Curia's spokesperson said. "Mgr Cremona was advised to rest. He cancelled his public commitments which he is resuming gradually. However, this does not mean that in actual fact he is not fully responsible for the running of the Archdiocese. This also disproves the other allegation that Bishop Mario Grech has taken over the running of the Archdiocese of Malta."
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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