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.

Charles Scicluna was the face of the Vatican's anti-paedophilia crusade. Now he will assist the Maltese archbishop in his pastoral mission.
Charles Scicluna was the face of the Vatican's anti-paedophilia crusade. Now he will assist the Maltese archbishop in his pastoral mission.

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."

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Antonio Pace
With all due respect, why send a 'promising' monsignor (as the church has portrayed him) to a backwater diocese like Malta? (Admittedly Gozo would have been a worse alternative.) And why appoint him a bishop without a right of succession? Unless Scicluna is returned to the Vatican as a senior prelate, I can only conclude that this move was a demotion. By the way, the character assassination started in Italy not Malta. Whether I am right or wrong, I had my suspicions from the start but I thought it better not to comment publicly.
Nikki Petroni
Like most people in Malta I was raised catholic, however once I became enlightened and I also stopped practicing – probably a dime a dozen in our country … I do usually like the priests or the church, as my numerous postings have made abundantly clear in the past! … However I cannot help asking why this champagne against the newly named auxiliary bishop – before he even sets foot back in Malta and is ordained! Who is playing this game and for what purpose??? Who is likely to gain by this character assassination??? ... Logic would dictate the question: “How can a 'mere' monsignor who is being elevated to bishop, at the same time be DEMOTED?” ... Fr Charles did not hide behind anyone or was afraid to call a spade a spade. He said and did what was right in his eyes and what he hoped also in the eyes of God! I am certain his conscience is clean ... but I have no doubt he also made some enemies in powerful places. But before we start repeating what we hear and play these silly games – smearing someone’s character or destroying their reputation in the process, we need to really be careful about the repercussions of our actions! … From what I've seen, he seems highly intelligent and a man of God – and there’s not many priests or laymen who can make claim to either of those attributes, much less both! … I feel this man can do a lot of good, and surprising myself more than anyone else, he will be a blessing for our islands! It doesn’t matter why he is coming back home or what ulterior motives those sending him here may have! Make him welcome and listen to what he has to say, I’m sure we all can learn a lot from him! So from my heart: good luck and welcome home Fr Charles!
Yanika Chetcuti
More likely a last desperate attempt at balancing Grech's medieval views and a sop to modern Malta, as Cremona is too nice a man to pull up Grech's ears.

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