Maltese Archbishop Scicluna: Benedict XVI was ‘instrumental in tackling clerical sexual abuse’

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Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna says Pope Francis continues to build on the progress made under Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s papacy in the Church’s response to clerical abuse cases through many documents.

The Maltese Archbishop, Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, served for 10 years as Promoter of Justice within that Congregation and played an instrumental role in the handling of clerical sex abuse cases.

He notes that then-Cardinal Ratzinger “was instrumental in the lengthy process that updated the law and procedures on the gravest canonical delicts (crimes; delicta graviora) reserved to the jurisdiction of the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith (1996 – 2001).” 

In a memorandum featuring a timeline and details regarding the response of Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI on the issue of Sexual Misconduct against Minors by Clergy, Archbishop Scicluna says that already in 2001 the then Prefect of the CDF “presented a draft law to St John Paul II that the Pope promulgated as the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (MP SST) on 30 April 2001.”

Chronologically listing the actions taken by Cardinal Ratzinger, the Archbishop says: “soon after, in November 2001, the CDF obtained from the Pope the special faculty to derogate from the statute of limitations to facilitate an adequate response in the most egregious crimes.”

“In February 2002, Cardinal Ratzinger requested and obtained from Pope John Paul II other special faculties aimed at expediting procedures in graviora delicta cases. At this time, it bears reminding, hundreds of historical cases were presented en masse to the CDF, especially from the US.”

Cardinal Ratzinger, Archbishop Scicluna underscores, “led the CDF’s response in constant dialogue with the canonical experts at the CDF and the local bishops, promoting formation on all levels.”

He explains that “the review of hundreds of cases of sexual misconduct against minors by clergy provided Cardinal Ratzinger with a deeper insight into the dark face of certain aspects of the ministry and he presented numerous egregious cases directly to the Holy Father for ex officio dismissal from the clerical state.”

Towards the end of 2004, “Cardinal Ratzinger ordered a review of all cases that had remained pending at the CDF, including some very high profile cases.”

Mons. Charles J. Scicluna, Malta Archbishop, during the last briefing on the work of the meeting on the protection of minors in the Church at the Patristic Institute Augustinianum, Vatican City, 24 February 2019. EPA-EFE/GIUSEPPE LAMI

The Maltese Archbishop notes that Benedict XVI was the first Pope to hold specific meetings with victims of sexual misconduct on his Pastoral Trips (eg Malta, 2010) and says that his Pastoral Letter to Catholics in Ireland (19 March 2010) remains a seminal reference text.

Finally, Archbishop Scicluna says, “Pope Francis continued to build on the progress made under Pope Benedict’s papacy in the Church’s response to clerical abuse cases through a number of addresses and Letters to the People of God (e.g. 20 August 2018). He also instituted important new laws: in particular, the Motu Proprio Come una Madre Amorevole (4 June 2016), the Motu Proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi (7 May 2019), a new version of the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (7 December 2021) and the revision of Book VI of the Code of Canon Law on Sanctions in Canon Law (8 December 2021).”

Tomb of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) in the Vatican Grottoes, Vatican City, 08 January 2023. Former Pope Benedict XVI died on 31 December 2022 at his Vatican residence, at the age 95. EPA-EFE/ANGELO CARCONI

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