Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna is the promoter of justice for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in handling cases where priests are accused of sexual abuse, which effectively makes him the prosecutor in such cases.
They’ve dealt with 3,000 such cases in the last nine years, mostly from the U.S. and covering a period of decades.
The Italian newspaper Avvenire just published an interview with him, and the Vatican Information Service picked it up and published an English translation.
It’s an interesting read, and an insightful look at how the CDF is and has been handling cases of sexual accusations.
Question: Monsignor, you have the reputation of being “tough”, yet the Catholic Church is systematically accused of being accommodating towards “paedophile priests”.
Answer: It may be that in the past - perhaps also out of a misdirected desire to protect the good name of the institution - some bishops were, in practice, too indulgent towards this sad phenomenon. And I say in practice because, in principle, the condemnation of this kind of crime has always been firm and unequivocal. Suffice it to recall, to limit ourselves just to last century, the famous Instruction “Crimen sollicitationis” of 1922.
Q: Wasn’t that from 1962?
A: No, the first edition dates back to the pontificate of Pius XI. Then, with Blessed John XXIII, the Holy Office issued a new edition for the Council Fathers, but only two thousand copies were printed, which were not enough, and so distribution was postponed sine die. In any case, these were procedural norms to be followed in cases of solicitation during confession, and of other more serious sexually-motivated crimes such as the sexual abuse of minors.
Q: Norms which, however, recommended secrecy…
A: A poor English translation of that text has led people to think that the Holy See imposed secrecy in order to hide the facts. But this was not so. Secrecy during the investigative phase served to protect the good name of all the people involved; first and foremost, the victims themselves, then the accused priests who have the right - as everyone does - to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The Church does not like showcase justice. Norms on sexual abuse have never been understood as a ban on denouncing the crimes to the civil authorities.
Q: Nonetheless, that document is periodically cited to accuse the current Pontiff of having been - when he was prefect of the former Holy Office - objectively responsible for a Holy See policy of covering up the facts…
A: That accusation is false and calumnious. On this subject I would like to highlight a number of facts. Between 1975 and 1985 I do not believe that any cases of paedophilia committed by priests were brought to the attention of our Congregation. Moreover, following the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there was a period of uncertainty as to which of the “delicta graviora” were reserved to the competency of this dicastery. Only with the 2001 “Motu Proprio” did the crime of paedophilia again become our exclusive remit. From that moment Cardinal Ratzinger displayed great wisdom and firmness in handling those cases, also demonstrating great courage in facing some of the most difficult and thorny cases, “sine acceptione personarum”. Therefore, to accuse the current Pontiff of a cover-up is, I repeat, false and calumnious.