The Maltese bishop, Charles Scicluna, former prosecutor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of clergy who sexually abused minors, was part of the Holy See delegation that appeared before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva on January 16.
In this interview by telephone from Geneva, he
spoke about the day-long session with the UN body that attracted so much
He says it gave the Holy See an
opportunity to respond to the Committee’s concerns regarding child
abuse, to reaffirm its commitment to protect children and minors
throughout the Catholic Church and all its institutions, and explain how
it is doing so.
Q. Could you sum up how the meeting went?
A. It was a very
interesting dialogue and the Committee had the opportunity to express
its concerns and they are concerns that we share. And so I think it has
been a very positive dialogue because the Holy See, as sovereign of
Vatican City State and as central organ of government of the Catholic
Church around the world, shares the high values of the Convention on the
Rights of the Child. The Committee is very anxious to promote
these values and we are on the same page. We had the opportunity, which
was I think very important, to express our commitment with the
teachings and the guidance of the recent Holy Fathers on the question of
the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. And we are also very grateful
for the input of the Committee; that input will also help the setting up
the working of the Commission for the Protection of Minors announced by
the Holy Father at the beginning of December.
Q. The Committee raised many tough
questions in today’s session. You were asked: given the ‘zero tolerance’
policy why were there efforts to ‘cover up’ and obscure cases of the
abuse of minors by clergy?
think that ‘cover-up’, meaning the obstruction of justice, has to be
addressed by the domestic laws of the countries where it happens. It is
not the policy of the Holy See. And to the extent that it is a crime
in the sovereign territories of the different countries it should be
prosecuted, irrespective of whoever is guilty of the crime of the
obstruction of justice.
Q. Another question is where responsibility
lies in the Catholic Church when priests or those working for the Church
principle that we promote, and which is so very clear even in Canon Law,
is the principle of personal liability. Canon 128 of the Code of Canon
Law expresses in a very clear way the fact that every person who creates
damages is liable to compensate that damage. In the section on penal
procedures in the Canon Law there is also an allowance for an action
which the third party or the victim brings asking for damages. This is
also something that is accepted when it comes to the administrative
decisions taken by Church personnel if there are damages, they have to
Q. According to media reports, you
explained to the Committee that the Vatican, the Holy See, is not
responsible for what priests actually do, for example, in Ireland, in
America or Australia.
think that is also a very important principle of Holy See policy and it
corresponds to structure of the Catholic Church and also to the
principle of personal responsibility for crime and delict.
Q. As I understand it, the Committee
was trying to understand how such abuse of minors by clergy could happen
in the Catholic Church worldwide and to such an extent.
A. I think the
abuse done by Catholic clergy and religious for so many reasons does get
the headlines, and even one case of abuse is one too many. There is, as
Benedict XVI said in his interview book - the Light of the World, the
mystery of evil and sin. I also think that deficits in human formation
have to be addressed and the good news is that they are being
addressed. The John Jay Report about the causes (of abuse)
indicates also deficits in the human formation, but this is already
something that for a number of years now has been addressed in the
training of future priests and religious.
Q. Victims’ organizations and the
victims themselves were very happy to see the Holy See brought before
the Committee, and felt that this is, at least, a step towards
recognizing the sufferings they have been through and the failure of the
Church to protect or listen to them in so many instances. How do you
think that moving forward should never imply forgetting deficits in the
approach that needed to be changed. So we are looking forward but we
should never repeat mistakes that have been done in the past. The Holy
See has been called to this meeting with the Committee on the Rights of
the Child as a routine meeting. In this session of the Committee other
countries have also been called to dialogue with the Committee, and
these include Russia, Germany and Yemen. So this is a normal routine
meeting. It is obviously the international level in which the Holy See
operates, and the moral authority which it has, that attracts so much
attention. So I don’t think there was as much press attention to the
Yemen dialogue yesterday as we have with the Holy See today, and I
wonder if there will be such media attention tomorrow when it is the
turn of Germany.
Q. The media attention is great because of the
international nature of the Holy See, and because none of these other
states hold themselves up as a moral authority.
also means that the Holy See has a great responsibility to give clear
guidance on this issue of the protection of children from abuse.
Q. What were you able to guarantee the Committee in this regard today, and what does it say you still have not done?
A. I think that
this commitment of the Holy See has to seep through to the local
Churches and on the local level, because every commitment of the Holy
See has to be lived at the local level and by the local Catholic
community. So I think it is very important that the Holy See - through
the leadership of Pope Francis and the Roman Curia, and also through the
Apostolic Nuncios and the departments of the Holy See-, helps the local
Churches assimilate the values of the Convention of the Rights of the
Child and also the determination shown by the teaching of the recent
Pontiffs on the question of child protection.
Q. In other words, so that it is
clearly seen that the abuse of minors is not only a sin, it is also a
crime that has to be prosecuted.
definitely so, and that is the responsibility of the state where the
crime occurs. When it comes to Canon Law, there is also a
responsibility when it comes to the community (to ensure) that an
offender is not in a leadership role if he constitutes a risk to minors.
Q. What about the accountability of
bishops? I mean what happens to bishops who fail to protect children, or
cover up? Failure here has been one of the problems highlighted by many
victims and their organizations.
are accountable to God and to their local churches, and I think it has
to be very clear under this policy of the Holy See that child protection
is an integral part of pastoral stewardship.
Q. What has this Committee asked you to do, or where has it said that something is not being done and you need to do more?
A. One of the
interesting ideas that has emerged from this meeting is that it would be
good to create a data base that would help a unified response when it
comes to individuals who are mobile from one diocese to the other and
from one country to the other, and I think that this is something that
could be considered. I think that there are so many points that
came up at this meeting that actually reinforce the Holy See’s
commitment and are well taken and serve as an encouragement of the
policy of the Holy See as expressed in the circular letter from the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 23 May 2011.
Q. Some of the critics in Geneva say there
isn’t really transparency at the Vatican, at the Holy See yet. What
would you say to them?
A. I think transparency and accountability – and I would put them together - are a work in progress.
Q. What stands out from today’s meeting?
think that the input of the Committee is very important because I think
we are all in agreement that the Holy See could help the local Churches
provide an example of best practice in questions of child protection.
Q. News media report from Geneva that
the Holy See was grilled by the Committee, and at one stage you
responded that “The Holy See gets it”. Do you think the Committee is
satisfied with the Holy See’s response?
A. I am
very grateful for very frank way that concerns were expressed by the
Committee, because this is also a sign of great trust in the capacity of
the Holy See to be a leader.
Q. This was your first experience coming before such a Committee. What is your take on it?
think this was a very important moment where the international community
engaged the Catholic Church which is a mammoth on the international
level and has such an important contribution to make to so many local
communities. It was, I think, a very important meeting because it was
dealing with concerns that are enshrined in the Convention on the Rights
of the Child and that are also the concerns of the Catholic Church, and
there is this meeting of commitment and, I would say, of resolve to
protect the integrity of minors on the physical, psychological and
Q. Since some 600 cases of abuse are
reported to the Vatican every year, were you able to convince the
Committee that the Holy See and the Catholic Church has a foolproof
A. I don’t think it will ever be such because sin will always be
with us. But I can give the assurance that we are doing all in our
power, as far as is humanly possible, to prevent the abuse of minors by
clergy and religious now and in the future.