VATICAN CITY, 14 MARCH 2010 (ZENIT)
Here is a Vatican
translation of an interview with Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who
handles cases brought against abusive priests for the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was published
Saturday by Avvenire.
* * *
"CHURCH ON STRICT PATROL"
INTERVIEW OF G. CARDINALE WITH MONSIGNOR CHARLES J. SCICLUNA,
PROMOTER OF JUSTICE OF THE CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE
Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna is the "promoter of justice" of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is effectively
the prosecutor of the tribunal of the former Holy Office, whose
job it is to investigate what are known as delicta graviora;
i.e., the crimes which the Catholic Church considers as being
the most serious of all: crimes against the Eucharist and
against the sanctity of the Sacrament of Penance, and crimes
against the sixth Commandment ("thou shall not commit impure
acts") committed by a cleric against a person under the age of
eighteen. These crimes, in a motu proprio of 2001, Sacramentum
sanctitatis tutela, come under the competency of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In effect, it is the
"promoter of justice" who deals with, among other things, the
terrible question of priests accused of paedophilia, which are
periodically highlighted in the mass media. Msgr. Scicluna, an
affable and polite Maltese, has the reputation of scrupulously
carrying out the tasks entrusted to him without deferring to
Q: Monsignor, you have the reputation of being "tough", yet
the Catholic Church is systematically accused of being
accommodating towards "paedophile priests"
Monsignor Scicluna: 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
Q: Wasn't that from 1962?
Monsignor Scicluna: 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...
Monsignor Scicluna: 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
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
Monsignor Scicluna: 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.
Q: What happens when a priest is accused of a delictum
Monsignor Scicluna: If the accusation is well-founded the
bishop has the obligation to investigate both the soundness and
the subject of the accusation. If the outcome of this initial
investigation is consistent, he no longer has any power to act
in the matter and must refer the case to our Congregation where
it is dealt with by the disciplinary office.
Q: How is that office composed?
Monsignor Scicluna: Apart from myself who, being one of the
superiors of the dicastery, also concern myself with other
matters, there are the bureau chief Fr. Pedro Miguel Funes Diaz,
seven priests and a lay lawyer who follow these cases. Other
officials of the Congregation also make their own vital
contribution depending upon the language and specific
requirements of each case.
Q: That office has been accused of working little and
Monsignor Scicluna: Those are unjustified comments. In 2003
and 2004 a great wave of cases flooded over our desks. Many of
them came from the United States and concerned the past. Over
recent years, thanks to God, the phenomenon has become greatly
reduced, and we now seek to deal with new cases as they arise.
Q: How many have you dealt with so far?
Monsignor Scicluna: Overall in the last nine years
(2001-2010) we have considered accusations concerning around
three thousand cases of diocesan and religious priests, which
refer to crimes committed over the last fifty years.
Q: That is, then, three thousand cases of paedophile priests?
Monsignor Scicluna: No, it is not correct to say that. We can
say that about sixty percent of the cases chiefly involved
sexual attraction towards adolescents of the same sex, another
thirty percent involved heterosexual relations, and the
remaining ten percent were cases of paedophilia in the true
sense of the term; that is, based on sexual attraction towards
prepubescent children. The cases of priests accused of
paedophilia in the true sense have been about three hundred in
nine years. Please don't misunderstand me, these are of course
too many, but it must be recognised that the phenomenon is not
as widespread as has been believed.
Q: The accused, then, are three thousand. How many have been
tried and condemned?
Monsignor Scicluna: Currently we can say that a full trial,
penal or administrative, has taken place in twenty percent of
cases, normally celebrated in the diocese of origin
always under our supervision
and only very rarely here in Rome. We do this also in order to
speed up the process. In sixty percent of cases there has been
no trial, above all because of the advanced age of the accused,
but administrative and disciplinary provisions have been issued
against them, such as the obligation not to celebrate Mass with
the faithful, not to hear confession, and to live a retired life
of prayer. It must be made absolutely clear that in these cases,
some of which are particularly sensational and have caught the
attention of the media, no absolution has taken place. It's true
that there has been no formal condemnation, but if a person is
obliged to a life of silence and prayer, then there must be a
Q: That still leaves twenty percent of cases...
Monsignor Scicluna: We can say that in ten percent of cases,
the particularly serious ones in which the proof is
overwhelming, the Holy Father has assumed the painful
responsibility of authorising a decree of dismissal from the
clerical state. This is a very serious but inevitable provision,
taken though administrative channels. In the remaining ten
percent of cases, it was the accused priests themselves who
requested dispensation from the obligations deriving from the
priesthood, requests which were promptly accepted. Those
involved in these latter cases were priests found in possession
of paedophile pornographic material and, for this reason,
condemned by the civil authorities.
Q: Where do these three thousand cases come from?
Monsignor Scicluna: Mostly from the United States which, in
the years 2003-2004, represented around eighty percent of total
cases. In 2009 the United States "share" had dropped to around
twenty-five percent of the 223 cases reported from all over the
world. Over recent years (2007-2009), the annual average of
cases reported to the Congregation from around the world has
been two hundred and fifty. Many countries report only one or
two cases. There is, then, a growing diversity and number of
countries of origin of cases, but the phenomenon itself is much
reduced. It must, in fact, be borne in mind that the overall
number of diocesan and religious priests in the world is four
hundred thousand, although this statistic does not correspond to
the perception that is created when these sad cases occupy the
front pages of the newspapers.
Q: And in Italy?
Monsignor Scicluna: Thus far the phenomenon does not seem to
have dramatic proportions, although what worries me is a certain
culture of silence which I feel is still too widespread in the
country. The Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) offers an
excellent technical-juridical consultancy service for bishops
who have to deal with these cases. And I am very pleased to
observe the ever greater commitment being shown by Italian
bishops to throw light on the cases reported to them.
Q: You said that a full trial has taken place in around
twenty percent of the three thousand cases you have examined
over the last nine years. Did they all end with the condemnation
of the accused?
Monsignor Scicluna: Many of the past trials did end with the
condemnation of the accused. But there have also been cases in
which the priest was declared innocent, or where the accusations
were not considered to have sufficient proof. In all cases,
however, not only is there an examination of the guilt or
innocence of the accused priest, but also a discernment as to
his fitness for public ministry.
Q: A recurring accusation made against the ecclesiastical
hierarchy is that of not reporting to the civil authorities when
crimes of paedophilia come to their attention.
Monsignor Scicluna: In some English-speaking countries, but
also in France, if bishops become aware of crimes committed by
their priests outside the sacramental seal of Confession, they
are obliged to report them to the judicial authorities. This is
an onerous duty because the bishops are forced to make a gesture
comparable to that of a father denouncing his own son.
Nonetheless, our guidance in these cases is to respect the law.
Q: And what about countries where bishops do not have this
Monsignor Scicluna: In these cases we do not force bishops to
denounce their own priests, but encourage them to contact the
victims and invite them to denounce the priests by whom they
have been abused. Furthermore, we invite the bishops to give all
and not only spiritual
assistance to those victims. In a recent case concerning a
priest condemned by a civil tribunal in Italy, it was precisely
this Congregation that suggested to the plaintiffs, who had
turned to us for a canonical trial, that they involve the civil
authorities in the interests of victims and to avoid other
Q: A final question: is there any statue of limitation for
Monsignor Scicluna: Here you touch upon what, in my view, is
a sensitive point. In the past, that is before 1898, the statue
of limitations was something unknown in canon law. For the most
serious crimes, it was only with the 2001 motu proprio that a
statute of limitations of ten years was introduced. In
accordance with these norms in cases of sexual abuse, the ten
years begin from the day on which the minor reaches the age of
Q: Is that enough?
Monsignor Scicluna: Practice has shown that the limit of ten
years is not enough in this kind of case, in which it would be
better to return to the earlier system of delicta graviora not
being subject to the statue of limitations. On 7 November 2002,
Venerable Servant of God John Paul II granted this dicastery the
power to revoke that statue of limitations, case by case
following a reasoned request from individual bishops. And this
revocation is normally granted.