Malta archbishop Charles Scicluna is the face of Vatican’s fight against sexual abuse

“The less victims we have, the more energy we have for schooling, for charities.” – Archbishop Charles Scicluna

Archbishop Charles Scicluna forms part of the organising committee for the summit on the protection of minors
Archbishop Charles Scicluna forms part of the organising committee for the summit on the protection of minors

Maltese archbishop Charles Scicluna was possibly the most sought-after prelate in the Vatican this week, as he fielded questions from the press on the Catholic Church’s much awaited summit on the protection of minors.

Convened by Pope Francis, the summit came hot on the heels of Scicluna’s renewed role as the Holy See’s prosecutor on clerical sex abuse cases, and in a bid to have cardinals and bishops meet victims of abuse.

“Listening to the narrative of victims is essential as a motivation to get it right,” Scicluna told the press yesterday. “If you don’t… you will never understand why you need to get it right. This has been my experience.”

The summit is concentrating on three values of good governance as a strategy to fight sexual abuse of minors committed by clergy: responsibility, accountability and transparency. Apart from listening to abuse victims, the organising committee – which includes Scicluna – will be meeting again to discuss a follow-up on the immediate, the middle-term and the long-term phases.

“There has to be a decisive and effective strategy because we have no other option but to get this right,” Scicluna yesterday told MaltaToday.

The problem of sex abuse inside the Catholic Church has troubled Pope Francis, with last year’s investigation by Scicluna in Chile having led to the resignation en masse of the entire bishops’ conference in the Latin American country.

Certain critics have accused the Catholic Church of having allowed a culture of permissiveness that allowed sex abuse crimes to take place – others blame an institutional omertà that has seen different dioceses cover up sex abuse scandals.

“You would get different answers in different places, so I think it is impossible to put everybody in the same category,” Scicluna told MaltaToday yesterday when asked about the root of the problem. “What is important and what the Pope wants to achieve through this meeting is to bring everybody together, listening to the same input and discussing the same topic, and understanding that there needs to be awareness of the gravity of sexual abuse of minors and that Church legislation, which has been there for quite some time, has to be implemented even-handedly and across the board.”

Scicluna admitted that changing attitudes will take time. “We have to work on cultures, we have to work on the empowerment of our people and we need to do all we can to ensure that the Church is what it should be, a safe place for young people.”

He said priests who are of risk to minors should not be in ministry, and indeed they should be defrocked, if found guilty of abuse. But he said there are other individual cases in which priests who have reached a certain old age might not necessarily be defrocked but simply removed from ministry. “The punishment needs to take care of the common good… you have to take it on a case-by-case basis.”

Scicluna also told the Vatican press on Friday that he would not pin down the problem of sex abuse in the Church due to the presence of homosexual priests. “We have single cases, not of categories of persons… one could speak of heterosexuality as well. These are human conditions which do no predispose people to sin; there are other variants… the personal inclination of being a delinquent for example. I would never dare use a category as a propensity to sin.”

Pope Francis is presiding all the sessions of this summit, which will come to a close with his final speech.

The roman pontiff laid out 21 points at the start of the summit, intended as a roadmap for discussion, but which Scicluna has described as a roadmap “for policy and law… the Holy Father wants us to be very concrete about it. It is all about motivation – if you get that right, everything falls into place.”

Scicluna also warned that Catholic communities and orders had to get their houses in order, or risk a continuous haemorrhage, not only of people from the Church, but also of financial assets due to compensations being paid in settlements and damages. “The less victims we have, the more energy we have for schooling, for charities,” he said.

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