Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who has been a key figure in the Church’s fight against abuse, defends Benedict XVI’s efforts.
Benedict XVI’s passing has reignited talk about how adequately he addressed sexual abuse in the Church. From being the first Pontiff to meet with abuse victims, to taking action against powerful and guilty priests, to being accused of mismanaging cases in his diocese when he was a bishop in Germany, the Pope Emeritus left a mixed record, according to many observers.
However, the Archbishop of Malta, Charles Scicluna, has instead strongly defended the Pope Emeritus’ efforts in various statements published by multiple media outlets. The Maltese prelate worked alongside Benedict XVI from 2002 to 2012 as the promoter of justice, like a prosecutor in charge of dealing with serious abuse crimes, for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
Cardinal Ratzinger was “instrumental in the lengthy process that updated the law and procedures on the gravest canonical delicts,” Archbishop Scicluna told Vatican News, while highlighting that these efforts only intensified once the German prelate became pope.
Today Archbishop Scicluna is still considered a key figure in the fight against abuse. Since 2018 he has served as secretary adjunct for the now renamed Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and that same year Pope Francis asked him to lead an investigation into abuses in the Church in Chile.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s work at the CDF
Cardinal Ratzinger’s fight against abuse within the Church began when he became Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981. In this position he was able to see this pervasive issue within the Church and the inadequacy of the structures and rules in place to deal with problematic priests. According to theAssociated Press, in 1988 he tried to persuade the Vatican legal department to let him remove abusers quickly but was refused as they cited “the need to protect the priest’s right to defense.”
As Archbishop Scicluna highlights in his comments to Vatican News, Cardinal Ratzinger was able to tackle the issue more directly in 2001. He presented John Paul II with a draft law that then became the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, which gave more power to the CDF to be able to deal with these grave crimes.
Then in November 2001 and February 2002 Cardinal Ratzinger obtained two other special faculties for the CDF from the Pope to be able to deal with the gravest cases of abuse, Archbishop Scicluna explained. The first was to be able to derogate from the statute of limitations and the second was to expedite procedures for certain cases. The acceptance of the second function led to many cases being presented “en masse” especially from the United States, the Archbishop highlighted.
In 2002 the Maltese prelate began assisting Cardinal Ratzinger in his work. “We used to discuss the cases on Fridays; he used to call it the Friday penance,” Scicluna told the Associated Press.
In 2004, shortly before being elected pope, the German Cardinal also ordered a review of all the pending cases at the CDF, which, according toCrux, included certain high profiles such as the Mexican Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legion of Christ.
“I saw … Cardinal Ratzinger mature in his understanding of the phenomenon,” Archbishop Scicluna told the National Catholic Reporter. “We were reviewing hundreds of cases every year and the narratives teach you a lot. They teach you about not only human weakness, but also the dark face of abuse, the effects on victims and also the fact that there is a narrative that repeats itself.”
Scicluna also told NCR that while Cardinal Ratzinger was humble enough to know when to rely on experts, he had “this huge understanding of human nature, and also the theology and the anthropology behind misconduct,” which helped him discern on certain cases.
Ratzinger’s fight continued as Pope
When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, “he ensured that the CDF’s work not only continued but was also supported,” emphasized Archbishop Scicluna to Vatican News. He highlighted how the German Pope renewed all the special faculties of the CDF and updated John Paul II’s 2001 Motu Proprio in 2010.
In 2014 the Vatican had revealed that in the previous decade it had received 3,400 cases of abuse and had defrocked 848 priests and sanctioned another 2,572. The Associated Press had reported at the time that nearly half of defrockings had occurred in the last two years of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy.
Archbishop Scicluna also emphasized to Vatican News that Benedict XVI was the first Pontiff to meet with sexual abuse victims, starting in 2008. Additionally he says that the Pope’s “Letter to Irish Catholics” (2010), written when abuse allegations erupted in the country, is a “basic reference text.”
Archbishop Scicluna highlighted that “Pope Francis continued to build on the progress made under Pope Benedict’s papacy in the Church’s response to clerical abuse cases.”
“Francis takes the theology of solidarity in a very deep way; when one member suffers, we all suffer,” Archbishop Scicluna told NCR. “There is a continuum, but there is also a development; it is not simply repeating.”
The accusations in the Munich report
In early 2022 the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising in Germany published a report accusing Benedict XVI of mishandling four abuse cases committed by priests when he was Archbishop between 1977 and 1982. Benedict then published a letter addressing the findings and denying the allegations, while expressing his “sorrow” and “shame” to the victims of abuse.