Archbishop Charles Scicluna tipped for cardinal as Vatican appoints auxiliary bishop

Birkirkara-born diocesan priest Joe Galea Curmi was appointed auxiliary bishop by the Vatican in a move that had church observers speculating on the future of Archbishop Charles Scicluna

Archbishop Charles Scicluna is being tipped for cardinal
Archbishop Charles Scicluna is being tipped for cardinal

Malta’s most powerful prelate could be tipped for his elevation to a Prince of the Church, as observers took note of the appointment of vicar-general Joe Galea Curmi, 54, to Auxiliary Bishop last week.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, 59, could see himself return to the Vatican – where he spent years at the side of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – in the unanticipated vacancy of Malta’s only Cardinal.

The new Auxiliary Bishop Joe Galea Curmi
The new Auxiliary Bishop Joe Galea Curmi

For months now, the Birkirkara-born diocesan priest Joe Galea Curmi had been touted for the post that Scicluna once occupied to take the side of his predecessor, Archbishop Emeritus Paul Cremona.

Galea Curmi’s appointment is indeed a decision that enjoys the full support of Scicluna, even though it is mandated by the Holy See, which will view the appointment as preparation for Malta’s next archbishop.

Galea Curmi served as Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Malta for the past three years, in recent days having taken a strong stand against the new embryo freezing law. Celebrating Mass in Wardija last week, Galea Curmi said that it was very sad to note that there will be an increase in “human lives that are frozen for many years in the hope that they will be accepted instead of thrown away.”

Galea Curmi has also been vocal about environmental issues, criticising the  commercialisation of St Julian’s – which he said has been exploited for the benefit of the few. A lecturer in pastoral theology and liturgy and canon law at the University of Malta, Galea Curmi is brother to Edgar Galea Curmi, the former chief of staff of Lawrence Gonzi who served as Prime Minister from 2004 until 2013.

Scicluna has been especially busy in the recent past, after being appointed by Pope Francis as his chief investigator in the clerical sex abuse cases inside the Chilean clergy. Indeed, Scicluna’s findings even led Pope Francis to renege on his initial public support against clergy accused of allegations of sexual abuses to offer an apology to the victims.

Scicluna’s appointment to the Cardinalate, where he would form part of the conclave that elects the Roman Pontiff, is ‘complicated’ since a small diocese like Malta tends to be represented by just one cardinal – in this case, the 92-year-old Prospero Grech, appointed in 2012 after an absence of 168 years for a Maltese cardinal. The appointment was made by Benedict XVI.

Only should Grech pass away, would Scicluna find it likely to be made a cardinal.

Scicluna already enjoys great respect in Rome. As Benedict’s czar, Scicluna was said to embody the Roman Pontiff’s zero-tolerance of sexual abuse, in the words of La Stampa’s Andrea Tornelli: “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.”

Undoubtedly, this must have been part of the reason why Francis brought Scicluna back into play in the Chilean investigation, where his 2,300-page report prompted the resignation en masse of the 31 active Chilean bishops and three retired ones in Rome – the first known time in history that an entire national bishops’ conference resigns over scandal. And it was only after Scicluna’s report that Francis performed a volte-face on the Barros affair, blaming a “lack of truthful and balanced information” and apologising in person to the three main whistleblowers.