Pope Francis Completes New Vatican Office to Address Clergy Abuse

The college of seven people will deal with the most serious crimes in the Church.

Bishop Charles Scicluna
Bishop Charles Scicluna (photo: CNA file photo/Alan Holdren)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Wednesday completed the membership of a new Vatican body with responsibility for dealing with clerical sex abuse, marking a further step in providing adequate procedures to insure justice for all the victims.

The body is a specific office within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that will deal with delicta graviora (grave offenses). These are the most serious crimes in the Church and most notably include offenses against morality: the sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric and the acquisition, possession or distribution of child pornography by a cleric.

The new office is established as a college of seven people, whose names were announced Jan. 21.

Bishop Charles Scicluna has been appointed president of the college. Now the auxiliary bishop of Malta, Bishop Scicluna served from 2002 to 2012 as promoter of justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — that is, as the Vatican’s public prosecutor — personally handling the sex-abuses crises of 2002 and 2010 and carrying forward the zero-tolerance line wanted by St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI to tackle the issue.

The other members of the college are: Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Cardinal Attilio Nicora, president emeritus of the administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See; Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Bishop Juan Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; and Archbishop Emeritus José Mollaghan of Rosario, Argentina.

The college has two supplementary members: Cardinal Julian Herranz Casado, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and Bishop Giorgio Corbellini, president of the Labor Office of the Apostolic See and of the Disciplinary Commission of the Roman Curia.

The new office is charged with easing the load on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, handling the appeals on grave offenses.

Aside from sexual abuse of minors, the cases that the college will examine include those against the sacraments — including those against Eucharist, such as profaning a consecrated Host; against confession, such as violating the seal; and against holy orders, such as the attempted ordination of a woman.

According to Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, issued motu proprio (of his own accord) by Pope John Paul II in 2001, authority for investigating abuse cases was transferred from the Congregation for Clergy to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith so that they could be dealt with in a more timely fashion. A person aggrieved by an administrative decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could ask for a review of the decision by the ordinary session of the congregation.

This ordinary session, called feria quarta, takes place once a month on a Wednesday and includes all 25 cardinal and bishop members of the congregation.

The new office will assist the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in this work.

According to Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, the congregation “had to examine four to five appeals a month of priests who were deemed to have been wrongly accused.”

It is yet to be decided how the new college will organize the work or if the college’s judgment on each case will be always accepted by the ordinary session, as well as if the ordinary session will be able to overturn the college’s judgments.

The work will obviously depend on the number of cases waiting for review, and monthly meetings will be likely scheduled.

The description simply reads that the work of the commission will juxtapose the work of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will maintain its competences.

It will be likely the congregation itself that entrusts the new office with a certain numbers of appeals, which are usually examined during the ordinary session.

All of these details will be discussed in further months, probably with the issuance of specific regulations that will establish the functions and plan of this new body.