The Vatican pointman on child abuse has insisted that with new papal initiatives since a watershed anti-pedophilia summit in Rome last year “silence and cover-ups” in the Church are now “a thing of the past”.
– Facing victims, “facing Christ in all the terror of the crucifixion”
Charles Scicluna, the Archbishop of Malta but also as Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith one of the Vatican’s top investigators of clergy sex abuse, was writing February 23 in the Times of Malta.
“Few adjectives can describe the conflicting emotions – pain, shame, anger, frustration, compassion – that one feels upon meeting a victim of clerical sexual abuse”, Scicluna admitted.
“On one hand, it is an extraordinarily difficult situation to handle because one instantly becomes a lightning rod for their raw rage; on the other, it is an enormous Christian privilege because you literally feel as if you are facing Jesus Christ in all the terror of the crucifixion”.
– “Everyone is accountable for their actions. Nobody is above the law”
Pope Francis, Scicluna affirmed, knows all too well the pain and shame of having to face a clergy sex abuse victim, for having met with a number of them in the past.
And it was out of that direct knowledge of the Church’s “gaping wounds”, Scicluna said – “that certain priests responsible for the protection of children had scarred their dignity” – that the pontiff decided to call the February 2019 summit with bishops from around the world, aimed at bolstering Church responsibility, accountability and transparency.
Fruit of the summit and of post-summit meetings with priests and laypeople was a “watershed law” in May 2019, Vos Estis Lux Mundi, that contains “a number of important provisions” going forward for child protection in the Church, the Archbishop of Malta explained.
Raising the age a victim is considered a minor, broadening the range of Church figures – such as nuns and brothers – that now come under Church law, sanctions not only against perpetrators “but also against individuals who interfere with, or seek to avoid, civil or Church investigations”… Scicluna explained just some of the dispositions introduced in Vos Estis Lux Mundi.
“Everyone is accountable for their actions. Nobody is above the law”, Scicluna insisted.
– “No silver bullet for this awful problem, but as close as we can get”
With Church leaders now becoming mandatory reporters under the new law, “there is no longer any discretion” allowed to bishops when dealing with sex abuse cases in the Church, “which means the silence, omertà and cover-ups can now become a thing of the past”, the Maltese prelate wrote.
The Pope’s Vos Estis Lux Mundi – along with his December 2019 decision to scrap the “pontifical secret” on internal Church sex abuse investigations – mean clerics now have “to cooperate in full with civil law enforcement agencies and open up unprecedented lines of communication with victims”, Scicluna continued.
“It would be delusional on our part to think these measures are a silver bullet for this awful problem, but they are as close as we can get and also bring the Church in line with the best standards on child protection”, the Maltese archbishop argued.
“Accountability of Church leadership is precisely where we need to start because leaders must ultimately lead by example – this reality for bishops is now inescapable – and the new laws for the protection of children and vulnerable persons are what we need to promote a culture of disclosure and move forward”, Scicluna concluded.