Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Charles Scicluna as secretary adjunct of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The pope’s decision gives the Maltese archbishop the lead role in the fight against abuse in the church and in the protection of minors.
The Vatican broke the news at midday on Nov. 13 in a statement adding that Archbishop Scicluna “will retain his role as archbishop of Malta.” Adjunct secretary is the joint number two position in the C.D.F., a senior role which he shares with the Italian archbishop Giacomo Morandi under the prefect of that congregation, the Spanish born Jesuit, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer. By appointing Scicluna to this important position, Pope Francis is assigning him the lead role in the Vatican in dealing with all matters relating to the abuse crisis, suggesting his determination to deal decisively with the scandal.
An informed source told America that Archbishop Scicluna will divide his time between Rome and Malta, but whether that continues to be the situation remains to be seen.
This surprise announcement came as the Vatican prepares for an unprecedented summit meeting of the presidents of some 130 bishops conferences from all continents in February called by Pope Francis to address the question of the protection of minors in the church and the crucial issue of accountability.
Archbishop Scicluna has long been the face of the Catholic Church in the fight to eliminate the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy and its cover-up by bishops and heads of religious orders. He enjoys enormous credibility among both survivors and bishops worldwide for his work in this field.
Archbishop Scicluna has long been the face of the Catholic Church in the fight to eliminate the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy.
Born in Toronto to Maltese parents, he returned with them to Malta as a child, where he grew up and was educated. After gaining degrees in civil and canon law, Pope John Paul II called then Monsignor Scicluna to work in the Vatican in 1995 in the Segnatura Apostolica, its Supreme Tribunal.
Then in 2002, as the abuse scandal erupted in the United States and other places, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the C.D.F., called the Maltese monsignor to work at his side as promoter of justice or chief prosecutor at the C.D.F. in dealing with cases of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy. In the following 10 years no fewer than 3,000 priests were removed by Rome from ministry, and Archbishop Scicluna emerged as the public face of the Vatican in the fight against child abuse.
In April 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger sent Archbishop Scicluna to investigate allegations of abuse against Father Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. He had just begun that investigation, listening to witnesses in New York when St. John Paul II died, but he continued his work. He returned to Rome on the eve of the 2005 conclave and reported back to Cardinal Ratzinger, who some days later was elected pope. His report soon led to the conviction and removal from public ministry of Father Degollado, a very powerful figure in the church who had many friends and defenders in the highest places in the Vatican.
The Maltese monsignor soon became the Pope Benedict’s right-hand man in implementing his “zero tolerance” policy against priests and religious who abuse minors and children. He was also one of those who ably defended Benedict in 2010 against the charges made in Germany that as archbishop of Munich he had re-assigned a priest abuser within the diocese. Archbishop Scicluna played a key role in drafting the new norms for the church’s handling of questions of abuse of minors by priests, norms that are now meant to be operational throughout the Catholic Church, even if not all conferences are living up to this standard.
Such fearless action did not always make him friends in the Vatican, and this is said to be one of the reasons why Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Scicluna as coadjutor to the archbishop of Malta on Oct. 6, 2012. Two months later, however, the same pope appointed him to the board of the C.D.F. enabling him to continue to make his contribution in dealing with abuse cases.
After becoming pope, Francis began to assign important roles to the Maltese prelate. In 2014, he sent Archbishop Scicluna to Geneva to testify before the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and in April of that year sent him to Scotland to collect testimonies of abuse against Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the former archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, who resigned in 2013 after admitting to sexual misconduct. As a result of his investigation, Francis deprived the late Cardinal O’Brien of all his rights and duties as a cardinal, and only left him with the title.
In February 2015, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Scicluna as archbishop of Malta. Later, he appointed him as president of the C.D.F.’s Tribunal of Appeals, dealing with the appeals from clergy following the first C.D.F. judgment against them. That tribunal, composed of seven senior Vatican officials, hears around five cases at its monthly session.
Earlier this year, soon after returning from his visit to Chile, Pope Francis sent Archbishop Scicluna to listen to victims of abuse by the predator priest (now laicized) Fernando Karadima. The Maltese archbishop began that work in New York and then traveled to Santiago. He reported back to the pope, giving him a 2,300 page dossier.
As a result of that investigation, Francis first sent a letter of apology to the faithful and victims in Chile and then invited some of the main survivors to meet him in the Vatican and reside there as his guests. Subsequently, the pope summoned all the Chilean bishops to Rome for a meeting, at the end of which they all submitted their resignations. He has already accepted nine of them and removed two bishops from the priesthood in addition to the former priest Karadima.
Today’s announcement reveals the trust Pope Francis has in Archbishop Scicluna. He has called him to work part-time in the Vatican as his closest advisor in handling the abuse crisis and, according to sources, may at some future day give him even more responsibility.