Msgr Charles Scicluna has been called the
Vatican’s DA – the official in charge of prosecuting priests who are accused of
sexual abuse and other offenses under the law of the Catholic Church. (Technicallly he is promoter of justice for the congregation for the doctrine of the faith). He gave
an interview to the Times of Malta before the Pope’s visit there on April 17
and 18. Here are some excerpts in which he speaks about the Church’s effort to
reform procedures dealing with sex abuse.

One accusation is that people in your
position have not been willing enough to be convinced of the guilt of your
fellow priests.

accusation that it’s all in-house is very old and I think that efforts to
render the process more transparent will only help the Church. The Church has
to be very, very clear on a simple point: that we are interested in the truth
because only the truth will set us free. When it comes to minors, the paramount
concern is the safety of children in churches and in organisations run by the

You went on record recently saying:
“We have to get our act together and start working for more transparency
in investigations and more adequate responses to the problem.” Implicit in
that statement is a criticism of the Church.

That comment echoes what Cardinal Ratzinger said in his 2005 Via Crucis at a
time when we were dealing with cases and trying to manage the frustration some
of them made us feel because justice was not meted out as it should be. We are
on a learning curve and should learn to do things more expeditiously.

You have talked of a ‘culture of

was a reference to Italy but it does not just apply to Italy. Asia is a
concern, so is Africa and other parts of the world.

Should advanced age be a factor when it
comes to taking action against a priest?

is when it comes to penalties. The main concern is that the accused priest
should not be a danger to children or young people. If such priests are old or
bedridden, they are supervised and that is a very important concern for the
community. If they are still a risk then of course, that is another question.
People of mature age have been dismissed from the clerical state by the Pope
because they would not agree to be placed under supervision. There is no single
solution. Every case is a unique tragedy.

What steps have been taken by the
Congregation in recent years to improve the safeguards?

of a safe environment for children is left to the individual diocese. The
diocese has to promote the protection of children on its own territory. It also
has to be responsible for the screening of personnel – clergy and non-clergy –
as well as liaising with the statutory authorities to be able to implement any
safeguards. So it is not the responsibility of the Congregation to enforce or
impose protection of children policies, but we are responsible for the negative
side – that is, people who offend are brought to our tribunal. That is our
specific role.

Does the Congregation view paedophilia as
an incurable condition?

is not a question of dogma or doctrine, but a question of psychology and human
sciences – which have developed on this aspect in recent years. There are
compulsive paedophiles who are sick and who cannot control their compulsion.
However, most cases (60 per cent) involve ephebophilia (sexual preference for
mid-to-late adolescents). If you’re talking about sexual relations with a
17-year-old, that would be heterosexuality or homosexuality. So diagnosis has
to be carried out on a case by case basis and we would need expert advice
before deciding.

Does the Church now just want to get rid of
these priests?

the person from the clerical state means they have no status as clergy and they
cannot abuse the trust people instinctively put in clergy. We have to ensure
they are not destitute – that is what Canon Law demands – but the outcome of
the future of such people is a concern which the Church has to share with society.

How has this issue affected the morale of
the Church – in Rome and outside of Rome?

current pressure doesn’t help morale. But I think Catholics are used to being
under pressure and this is another type. However, I find that all this pressure
not only humiliates us but purifies our commitment and also gives us a deeper
understanding of the virtue of hope – which is about persevering in moments of
tribulation. In his encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), Pope Benedict talks
in a very beautiful way of the gift the virtue of hope gives us. In moments of
great tribulation and humiliation, the virtue of hope helps us to go on, to go
forward and helps us survive through the storm.

Some people have described the Church’s
current predicament as a crisis. Do you see it like that?

crisis means a turning point, then it’s welcome. Because that means that
whatever good comes from this – and good will come from this – is going to
change the way we look at certain problems and the way we address them. Crises are
also opportunities. And these are very good opportunities for us to grow.


Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.