Bishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former sex crimes prosecutor, has been appointed to lead the panel that will hear appeals by priests who have been accused of abusing minors, the Holy See announced Wednesday. The decision was made by Pope Francis two months after he announced the creation of a judicial body that will handle sexual abuse crimes.
Scicluna, an auxiliary bishop in Malta, was the church’s lead prosecutor for sex crimes between 2002 and 2012. He was appointed to the position a year after Pope Benedict XVI (then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) passed legislation requiring all bishops to send abuse allegations to his office before taking any action. Ratzinger intervened in this process after he realized bishops were moving accused priests from parish to parish to avoid prosecution, the Associated Press reported.
While Scicluna rarely spoke publicly about his role, he was regarded as a hard-liner against clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups.
"Scicluna did a remarkable job," Juan Vaca, a former priest, told the AP in 2012. He was the first abuse victim Scicluna interviewed during the delayed investigation of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the late founder of the Legion of Christ religious order who abused boys, maintained relationships with two women and fathered six children, two of whom he abused. In the years after Maciel's condemnation, "[Scicluna] continued to prosecute other similar cases with the same integrity," Vaca said.
In 2012, when Benedict announced his appointment of Scicluna as bishop to his native Malta, Vatican critics saw the move as a demotion – a “promote and remove” tactic to soften the church’s stance on clergy sexual abuse. At the time, Scicluna called it "a very good" promotion and insisted the church’s stance would remain the same.
Still, even with Scicluna’s latest appointment, victims' groups say more needs to be done to punish abusive priests.
“We should not confuse motion with reform,” Barbara Dorris, outreach director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said in a statement Wednesday. “Like virtually every other Catholic official, Francis pretends that internal tinkering with church policies will really help prevent abuse. It won’t.”
The group, which is the largest self-help organization for victims of clergy sexual abuse, urges the Catholic Church to defrock, demote and publicly discipline abusive priests and bishops who conceal sex crimes.
Since Francis was elected in March 2013, he has remained relatively silent on the topic. He began making statements last May when he met with sex abuse victims and called the allegations an "ugly crime" akin to performing "a satanic Mass." A month later, Polish Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski was defrocked after a Vatican tribunal found him guilty of sexually abusing minors. During a homily given in July, Francis called for “zero tolerance” of sex abuse by clergy and met with six more victims.
“Church panels, procedures, protocols and panels make for great public impression. They provide the patina of progress,” Dorris said referring to the panel the pope established in November that will advise the Vatican on child protection policies. They will meet for the first time at the Vatican on Feb. 6-8. “But they’re almost always public relations.”