Scicluna: On Abuse Crisis, Church Must ‘Move From Documents to Actions’

Archbishop who helped establish first responses to the 2002 sex-abuse crisis says Church needs to ‘renew our commitment to child protection.’

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta speaks in June.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta speaks in June. (photo: Archdiocese of Malta via CNA)

POZNAN, Poland — According to Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Pope’s recent decision to call to Rome the presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world is a sign that prevention of abuse and protection of minors must be a concern for the entire Church.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of La Valletta, Malta, served 2002-2012 as promoter of justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He helped establish the Church’s first responses to the 2002 sex-abuse crisis, and his work in the field is still a landmark.
Pope Francis twice sent Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to investigate allegations that Bishop Juan Barros Madrid had covered up crimes against minors.
Speaking from Poznan, Poland, where he took part in the annual gathering of the Council of the European Bishops’ Conferences, Archbishop Scicluna stressed that the Pope’s decision to call to Rome presidents of the different bishops’ conferences around the world “is a clear sign that protection of minors and prevention of abuse are a top priority for the whole Church.”

“The commitment of the Church as a safe place for minors should be for the whole Church and should be the concern of everybody in the Church,” he added.
Archbishop Scicluna also stressed that “protection of minors is something that has to be an ongoing process in the Church, and, therefore, it only begins with the good screening of future priests, as St. John Paul II asked for in 1992.”
The archbishop referred to Pope St. John Paul II’s 1992 post-synodal exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis.  

“It was St. John Paul II’s prophetic message,” he said, “as the document, speaking of the formation of future priests, valued the issue of human formation, of psychological screening and also of a clear evaluation of the candidate from the point of view of emotional authority and eligibility to be the shepherd of the flock.”
The document underscored that, “in the seminary, that is, in the program of formation, celibacy should be presented clearly, without any ambiguities and in a positive fashion. The seminarian should have a sufficient degree of psychological and sexual maturity as well as an assiduous and authentic life of prayer, and he should put himself under the direction of a spiritual father.”
Archbishop Scicluna said that, beyond the screening of future priests, there must also be “an empowerment to the community to disclose abuse when it happens and also an empowerment of the community so that together we ascertain and we guarantee that the Church is a safe place for everybody, including minors.”
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s former prosecutor also noted that in May 2001 the congregation asked bishops’ conferences around the world to prepare guidelines to counter abuse.
 “The circular letter,” Archbishop Scicluna said, “gave important indications, as it talked about formation of future priests, but also talked about the protection of the community; and it also mentioned cooperation with civil authorities.”
The letter stated that “sexual abuse of minors is not just a canonical delict, but also a crime prosecuted by civil law. Although relations with civil authority will differ in various countries, nevertheless, it is important to cooperate with such authorities within their responsibilities.”
Archbishop Scicluna commented that these things “need to be implemented and constantly put in the local Church’s agenda.”
He also said that most bishops’ conferences have issued guidelines following the CDF’s advice and that all existing guidelines have been now screened by the Vatican.
However, Archbishop Scicluna added, “Documents are not enough. We need to sensitize whole communities, because this sad phenomenon cannot be solved with hierarchical decisions, but must involve everyone.”
Speaking about the meeting convoked by Pope Francis for February 2019, Archbishop Scicluna said that the meeting comes from a decision of the council of cardinals, but it is also “a response to people’s expectation that we move from documents to actions.”
He said that “people need to understand that nice words and promises are not enough, while a diffused commitment involving the whole Church and everyone in the Church is much needed.”
“After years,” he concluded, Church leaders must “renew our commitment to child protection in the Church.”