· Interview with Mons. Charles J. Scicluna, Promoter of Justice ·
The Church does not like to showcase justice but that does not mean she is not rigorous in her investigation of sexual abuses by diocesan and religious priests, sine acceptione personarum, nor that she hinders the reporting of offences to the civil authorities. Mons. Charles J. Scicluna, Promoter of Justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is unequivocal and leaves readers in no doubt whilst reaffirming the Church's position on paedophilia.
In an interview with the newspaper Avvenire , published on Saturday, 13 March, the Prelate confirmed that “in principle, the condemnation of this kind of crime has always been firm and unequivocal”. He also recalled that the first edition of the famous Instruction Crimen Sollicitationis of 1922 established the 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”. He then explained that on account of a poor English translation of the text, the norms have been interpreted as if to mean 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 clerics who have the right – as everyone does – to presumed innocence until they are proven guilty”.
It was, he went on, John Paul II's Motu Proprio, Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela , 30 April 2001, that established the exclusive competency of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to judge cases of delicta graviora, namely offences committed against morals and in celebration of the sacraments. In a confidential letter signed by the Cardinal Prefect, Joseph Ratzinger, and the Secretary, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, sent to all the Bishops of the Church on 18 May of the same year, the Congregation published all the substantive and procedural norms regarding these “most serious crimes”.
In this context Scicluna disclosed that in the past nine years, from 2001 to 2009, the Congregation had been called upon to examine “accusations concerning around 3,000 cases of diocesan and religious priests, which refer to offences committed over the last 50 years”. Of course, the 3,000 cases to which Mons. Scicluna referred do not only include cases of paedophilia. He went on to clarify, “we can say that roughly 60 percent of these cases chiefly involved ephebophilia, sexual attraction to adolescents of the same sex, another 30 percent involved heterosexual relations, and the remaining 10 percent were cases of paedophilia in the true sense of the term; that is, determined by sexual attraction to prepubescent children”. The cases of priests “accused of paedophilia in the true sense number some 300 in nine years. Please do not misunderstand me, these are of course too many cases, but it must be recognized that the phenomenon is not as widespread as made out”. In the last few years, from 2007 to 2009, Scicluna stated, “the annual average reported to the Congregation from around the world has been 250 cases” of delicta graviora out of a total number of 400,000 diocesan and religious priests in the world.
A full trial, penal or administrative, has taken place in 20 percent of cases and, as the Promoter of Justice pointed out, is 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 60 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, and to live a retired life of prayer. It is well to repeat that in these cases, some of which are particularly sensational and have caught the attention of the media, it is not a question of absolution. It is true that there has been no formal condemnation, but if a person is obliged to live a life of silence and prayer, then there must be a reason...”.
In 10 percent of cases, the “particularly serious ones in which the proof is overwhelming”, Scicluna said, “the Holy Father has assumed the painful responsibility for authorizing a decree of dismissal from the clerical state. This is a very serious but inevitable provision, taken through administrative channels. In the other 10 percent of cases, it was the accused priests themselves who requested dispensation from the obligations deriving from the priesthood, requests which were promptly accepted. Among those involved in these latter cases were priests found to be in possession of paedophile pornographic material and, for this reason, condemned by the civil authorities”. With regard to relations with the civil authorities, the Promoter of Justice, in reply to a question on the matter, recalled that in some countries such as France: “if Bishops become aware of offences committed by their priests outside the sacramental seal of Confession, they are obliged to report them to the judicial authorities”, whereas when such an obligation does not exist “we do not force Bishops to report their own priests, but encourage them to contact the victims and invite them to report the priests by whom they have been abused. Furthermore, we ask Bishops to give all spiritual – and not only spiritual – assistance to these 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 the victims and to avoid other offences”.
Mons. Scicluna dismissed as “false and calumnious” the accusation that the then Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, encouraged a policy of concealment in such cases. “I would like to highlight some of the facts on this subject. Between 1975 and 1985 I find that no 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 these cases and, what is more, demonstrated great courage in facing some of the most difficult and thorny cases, sine acceptione personarum . Therefore, to accuse the current Pontiff of covering-up is, I repeat, false and calumnious”.
In short, the Prelate considers, on the basis of current practice, that the limit of 10 years is not enough for the statute of limitations for delicta graviora. “It would be desirable to return to the earlier system of delicta graviora not being subject to the statute of limitations”. The term was in fact introduced by the 2001 Motu Proprio. “Anyway”, the Promoter of Justice concluded, “on 17 November 2002, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II granted this Dicastery the faculty to revoke that statute of limitations, case by case, following a reasoned request from individual Bishops. And this revocation is normally granted”.
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