The Vatican’s chief prosecutor on sexual-abuse cases by clergy gave a stern reminder of the gravity of their sins at a Holy Hour of reparation and healing in St. Peter’s Basilica. He also shed light on ways forward out of the current crisis.

Msgr. Charles Scicluna, who serves as promoter of justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was speaking after an hour of adoration in the basilica May 29, which was arranged by students and seminarians at Rome’s pontifical universities.

Underlining Jesus’ “sweet and tender” relationship with children, Msgr. Scicluna stressed that a child is a “striking image of innocence” who becomes an “icon of the disciple who wants to be ‘great’ in the Kingdom of heaven.”

“In our presence here today and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist,” he said, “we want to echo the love, care and concern that the Church, the Bride of Jesus, has always had for children and the weak.”

He pointed out how a child acts as a reminder of “purity, docility, self-abandon, trust, enthusiasm and hope, all of which render the child precious in the eyes of God and to the eyes of Jesus’ true disciples.”

But the Maltese Vatican official then warned how “barren and sad” the world becomes when this “icon so beautiful, so holy is trod underfoot, violated, sullied, abused and destroyed.”

He interpreted Jesus’ words in the Gospel — “Let the children come unto me and do not hinder them” (Mark 10:14) — to be a strong warning “not to hinder their spiritual progress, not to allow them to be seduced by the devil, and not to make children the object of your impure greed.”

Quoting another passage in Mark (9:42) — “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck” — he recalled Pope St. Gregory the Great’s interpretation:

“The millstone mystically expresses the hard and tedious pace of secular life, while the deep sea signifies the most terrible curse, Pope Gregory said. So he who, having taken up a profession of holiness [and] afterwards destroys others by word or example, it would be better that his evil deeds cause him to die in secular dress rather than that his sacred office hold him up with his sins as an example to others; because, undoubtedly, if he fell by himself, his torment in hell would be of a more bearable quality.”

Msgr. Scicluna also contrasted the innocence of children with arrogance and careerism in the Church.

“How many sins in the Church [have happened] because of arrogance, insatiable ambition, abuse of power and injustices committed by those who exploit their ministry to advance their career?” he asked. He also denounced “futile and wretched vainglory.”

The remedy to such scandals offered by God as the “Divine Surgeon,” Msgr. Scicluna continued, is to “cut out [disease] in order to heal,” and to “amputate in order to restore health.” The Vatican official also proposed the “preventive medicine” of solid formation for future priests, calling on them to be on fire with the faith, making them salt and light for the world.

In prayers that followed, participants at the ceremony called for supplication for the victims, “so that they can heal their wounds and experience true peace.” Prayers were also offered for the perpetrators, so that “they can honestly face up to the consequences of their guilt and embrace the needs of justice.”

The Holy Hour, which was attended by approximately 200 people, including seminarians and rectors from the North American, Irish and English colleges as well as Vatican officials and passers-by, concluded with a solemn Benediction.

The idea to hold the service originated from a small group of students, led by English seminarian Luke de Pulford. “We hoped that by doing something in St. Peter’s it would have a ripple effect,” he said. “Hopefully, people will see it as an example and will follow suit.”

Together with Msgr. Scicluna, de Pulford enlisted the help of musicians, choristers and acolytes from the Venerable English College.

“The Brits did a stunning job choreographing everything — they were just outstanding,” said Father Avram Brown, a student at the Pontifical North American College’s Casa Santa Maria seminary for priests’ graduate studies in Rome. He said the service was “a striking testimony of recognition amongst the faithful of the deep wound that this crisis has caused and the unlimited power of the Sacred Heart of Christ to bring healing to all those involved in this tragic situation.”

He also described it as “an immense gesture of support for the Holy Father and for those who are working to bring about a re-orientation of the Church in fidelity to which Christ calls each one of us.”

De Pulford stressed the importance of the Blessed Sacrament being central to the service of reparation, in contrast to it being a mere meeting or rally. “It emphasizes that that’s where the healing comes from,” he said. “When you’re gathered around the Eucharist and centered on that fact, it helps everyone to focus their attention on how to best get through this crisis, which is through prayer.”

Father Brown said it was “a marvelous testimony” and that by placing all “at the foot of Christ’s cross, before Jesus present in the Eucharist,” it would help to bring “the transformation of hearts that we all need.”

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.