Adjunct secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta is helping lead Pope Francis’ efforts in battling sexual abuse in the Church. This is the second in a series of five articles on key personalities involved in the upcoming summit on sexual abuse.
Behind his cheery face, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, one of the organizers of the Vatican meeting on sexual abuse in February, is a redoubtable investigator.
Actually, he is a kind of “Elliot Ness of the Vatican,” who has investigated a series of shadowy and delicate matters for Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, including the worst sorts of crimes.
Yet nothing foreshadowed that Archbishop Scicluna, a Canadian born of Maltese parents who returned to the island at the age of eleven months, would eventually become the pope’s man in the battle against pedophilia.
Originally a canon lawyer, he prepared his doctoral thesis in Rome on Catholic marriage
under the guidance of future cardinal Raymond Burke, who was then defender of the bond at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
Although the Signatura wanted to retain Scicluna in a post there, his archbishop needed him in Malta. As a result, he worked for five years dealing with marriage issues at the diocesan tribunal while teaching canon law.
But the archbishop eventually relented and allowed Scicluna to return to the Apostolic Signatura in 1995.
The man who investigated Marcial Maciel
In 2002, when Saint John Paul II entrusted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) with managing the child abuse issue, Scicluna became promoter of the faith and a close collaborator of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
At this time, the latter was battling the entourage of the Polish pope, who prevented him from investigating Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who was already accused of serious crimes.
Then on April 2, 2005, when Pope John Paul II died at the Vatican, Cardinal Ratzinger who had hoped to soon retire and wanted to “wrap up” several files, sent Scicluna to the United States to interview Father Maciel’s victims.
After he became pope, Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop William Levada head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and instructed him to make the Maciel case file a priority. Just one year later, Maciel was found guilty.
In parallel with this, and with the full confidence of the German pope, Scicluna became the Vatican’s “zero tolerance” man against pedophilia, acting with unrelenting determination in the judicial sphere as well as promoting efforts at prevention.
“He took his mission very much to heart, delving into the files. And he understood how to fight the inertia and cliques inside the Vatican,” recalls Frédéric Mounier, Vatican correspondent for La Croix at the time.
In recognition of his services, Scicluna was appointed auxiliary bishop of Malta in 2012. Pope Francis then made him archbishop in 2015 while still calling on his services in difficult matters.
During his visit to to Chile Pope Francis discovered the full extent of clerical sexual abuse, it was a catastrophe. The pope learned he had been deceived over the case of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who was accused of having taken part in the abuse of a priest. Therefore, Francis personally ordered Archbishop Scicluna to investigate the Chilean sexual abuse crisis.
Despite a gallbladder operation, Archbishop Scicluna remained in Chile for a week, holding a series of meetings. Subsequently, the victims praised his “empathy,” something they had not experienced from Church leaders for a long time.
Scicluna later presented a voluminous 2,300 page report to the pope, spurring Francis to publicly express his “pain” and “shame” and to appeal for forgiveness from the victims, recognizing that “grave errors” had been committed because of a “lack of genuine and balanced information.”
Indispensable to the pope
Having become an indispensable aide to the pope on complex issues, Archbishop Scicluna was recalled to Rome last November as Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
This is a part-time post, since he has remained archbishop of Malta. Nevertheless, it gives him significant authority as he is in charge of the office of disciplinary matters, which recently had its staff increased to become a kind of “investigating” office against abusers for the Church.
Regarding the February meeting, Archbishop Scicluna told Vatican News that he was particularly hopeful that it would allow bishops, religious superiors and Curia officials to become aware of the “gravity of the situation” and to reflect together on solutions.
He himself has envisaged several changes to canon law. They include, for example, “a stronger role for metropolitan bishops”, as well as “a greater role for victims in the canonical process.”
The latter are actually glaringly absent from current canon law.
Article reproduced by kind permission of La Croix