Saturday, October 06, 2012

Holy Scicluna – In Shock Move, Vatican's Abuse "Bulldog" Shipped Home

While the global media spends today's cycle fixated and then some on the 18-month jail sentence imposed this morning on the papal ex-butler, truth be told, there are things of actual consequence happening at the Vatican this Saturday... just not in that courtroom. 

Along those lines, anyone seeking the sideshow can find it elsewhere – 'round here, as ever, we're sticking with the news.

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In a move that seems bound to cast yet another cloud over perceptions of Rome’s attitude adjustment on clergy sex-abuse, the Pope has sent the Holy See’s highly-regarded lead prosecutor on the cases back to his native Malta as an auxiliary bishop.

Formally announced at Roman Noon this Saturday, the departure of Msgr Charles Scicluna, 53, was initially reported in the Italian press over the last 24 hours. 

A low-key yet media-friendly figure who’s unleashed “words of fire” in his public comments on the harrowing trail that’s claimed tens of thousands of victims and eviscerated the church’s public witness across broad swaths of the Catholic world, the refined, Toronto-born civil and canon lawyer (above) has served as promotor of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – akin to a canonical “district attorney,” the office's fourth-ranking official – since 2002, following seven years at the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's "supreme court."

With the recent arrival of Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller in the post the pontiff himself held for 23 years, changes in the CDF’s lead staff over these months are to be expected. What makes this move striking, however – well, among other things – is that while practically every other key alum of Joseph Ratzinger’s team at the “Holy Office” has been launched from the first congregation to a prominent post in Benedict's Curia or even beyond, at least on its surface, the nature of Scicluna’s transfer stands in something of a marked contrast. (From a different news-angle, meanwhile, with this appointment, the Vatican office overseeing the reform of the leadership group representing the US' women religious has lost its last remaining senior staffer who's a native English-speaker.)

Brought aboard at CDF as it assumed global oversight of abuse allegations – a competence given to it at Ratzinger's behest – the new bishop-elect has been the linchpin figure of a concerted Vatican response that, by his own figures, reached a final judgment on claims against over 3,000 priests, nearly all of which resulted in the permanent removal of the accused from ministry. On another front, Scicluna is credited with constructing the 2010 universal norms which extended the church's statutes of limitations on reporting cases, in addition to including sexual misconduct with a disabled adult and possession of child pornography by a cleric as ecclesial crimes. Yet beyond dealing with the flood of legal work alongside the eight-member team he assembled, the monsignor has likewise played a significant role in perhaps an even bigger accomplishment: a cultural shift within a timeframe that, for Rome, has been remarkably rapid.

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In early 2005, Ratzinger dispatched Scicluna to Mexico and New York to collect testimony against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr Marcial Maciel, amid allegations of abuse levied by several former members of the community. During the sessions, the CDF aide reportedly apologized to the men, who were said to have come away impressed with his dedication and pursuit of justice.

But the mission wasn’t delicate 
solely because of the victims’ ordeals. Seven years earlier, the future pontiff had attempted an inquest of Maciel – a particular favorite of now-Blessed John Paul II – only to see it short-circuited after a push from the Legion’s influential cadre of supporters within the Vatican. 

In John Paul’s last months, his eventual successor quietly had Scicluna resume the probe. And just over a year after his own election, the new Pope signed off on a sentence that, not long earlier, would’ve been unthinkable: Maciel’s banishment from ministry and effective placement under ecclesiastical “house arrest.”

The once-powerful cleric died in seclusion two years later, and his order – previously celebrated in some circles as a model of fidelity and discipline that evoked comparisons with the early Jesuits – remains under the supervision of a cardinal-delegate named by Benedict in the aftermath of a 2009 Apostolic Visitation.

Having worked in relative obscurity during the first stage of his tenure, over recent years Scicluna has taken on an unusually high profile for a Curial priest in making numerous public interventions on abuse in the church, and the path toward healing and renewal. In the process, the diminutive cleric has arguably become the Vatican’s lead voice in echoing the emotions felt among the church’s rank-and-file as the decades-long scandals have continued to erupt across the landscape.

Presiding over a landmark 2010 prayer service of reparation in St Peter’s Basilica, Scicluna railed in asking “How many are the sins in the church for arrogance, for insatiable ambition, the tyranny and injustice of those who take advantage of ministry to advance their careers, to show off, for reasons of futile and miserable reasons of vanity!

“Accepting the kingdom of God like a child is to accept with a pure heart, with docility, abandonment, confidence, enthusiasm, and hope,” he said. “All this reminds us of the child. All this makes the child precious in God's eyes, and in the eyes of a true disciple of Jesus.

In that light, then, he continued, “how barren and sad the world becomes when this beautiful image, when this holy icon [of a child] is crushed, broken, muddied, abused and destroyed. The deep cry that comes from the heart of Jesus echoes: ‘Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.’ Do not be an obstacle in their way toward me, do not hinder their spiritual progress, do not let them be seduced by evil, do not make children the subject of your impure greed.”

Scicluna closed the blistering section of his text with Jesus' woeful warning from the 9th chapter of St Mark's Gospel: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea."

More recently, speaking at the first-ever Vatican-sponsored conference on abuse held last February at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the monsignor almost surely stoked tumult in some Curial circles by using the word “omertà” – the loaded term for understood silence most often associated with the Mafia – in rapping “a deadly culture of silence” on sexual abuse that, beyond obstructing the truth, “is in itself wrong and unjust.”

“Other enemies of the truth,” he added, “are the deliberate denial of known facts and the misplaced concern that the good name of the institution should somehow enjoy absolute priority to the detriment of disclosure.

In the cause of combatting the scourge, “the law may indeed be clear," Scicluna said. "But this is not enough for peace and order in the community. Our people need to know that the law is being applied.... No strategy for the prevention of child abuse will ever work without commitment and accountability.” 

(Above left, the nominee is shown attending a candlelight vigil of penance which was part of the Gregorian gathering. The conference's papers are to be published as a book next month; Scicluna is listed as one of its three editors.)

Given his high profile and reputation as a keen “fixer” and star canonist, much as Scicluna’s appointment as a bishop comes as no surprise, his name has long been speculated upon for an episcopal assignment in the Curia. Against that backdrop, however, a return instead to his homeland – proportionally, one of the world's most Catholic countries – as second-in-command of its lead diocese of 340,000 members is a pretty safe bet to raise more than a few eyebrows among observers.

Indeed, the reaction's already begun – as one Italian comment mused early today, “Scicluna, the hunter of pedophiles, has been hunted out of the Vatican.”

In his new post, the bishop-elect will serve as deputy to Archbishop Paul Cremona, a Dominican friar who was a parish priest on the island on his appointment to its top post in 2007. According to local reports, the high-spirited, 66 year-old prelate has been experiencing "health troubles" over recent months due to "exhaustion." Cremona's last auxiliary died last year at 73.

Scicluna's episcopal ordination is scheduled for November 24th in the co-cathedral of St John in Malta's capital, Valletta. The choice of his successor at CDF remains to be seen.