The late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in prayer The late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in prayer 

Archbishop Scicluna: Benedict XVI was 'instrumental in tackling clerical sexual abuse'

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the man universally recognized as having served as the Vatican’s top prosecutor in cases of clerical misconduct, upholds and commends the handling of clerical sex abuse by the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

By Vatican News 

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).” 

As Prefect of the CDF

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.”

As Pope 

When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, Archbishop Scicluna continues, “he ensured that the CDF’s work not only continued but was also supported. He renewed all the special faculties granted by his predecessor, St John Paul II, and requested that they be included in a new version of the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela that he then promulgated in 2010."

As Pope, he said, “he would review egregious cases of graviora delicta presented to him by the CDF on a weekly basis.” 

Meetings with victims

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.

Building on progress made

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)."

In February 2019, Pope Francis also convoked a meeting of bishops’ representatives of all Episcopal Conferences and of Major Superiors to discuss issues of sexual misconduct against minors and the protection and care of minors in the Church.

Many other words and deeds

Archbishop Scicluna’s first-hand testimony of the actions taken by Joseph Ratzinger during his mandate at the CDF and afterwards at the head of the Catholic Church represents a solid witness of the German pontiff’s commitment to eradicate what he famously referred to as “filth” in the Church back in 2005 in a comment written for the Ninth Station of the Way of the Cross.

There are also many other testimonies and documents that reveal how his life as a pastor and a man of God was deeply marked by his commitment to eradicate the scourge of clerical sexual abuse and accompany victims in a process of healing.

An article by Juan Ignacio Arrieta in La Civiltà Cattolica, published in 2010, reports on a study that revealed that Joseph Ratzinger had done his utmost as early as 1988 to streamline the canonical process to punish priests who had perpetrated sexual abuse against minors.

In numerous well-documented instances, Ratzinger delivered homilies, speeches, discourses and exhortations and wrote letters and messages describing the sexual abuse of minors committed “within the family of the Church” as “egregious crimes”, repeatedly affirming that “efforts to protect children must continue.”

He decried the suffering caused by clerical sexual abuse and in almost every apostolic visit met with victims, sharing the shame, the betrayal and the outrage of the faithful.

Ratzinger commissioned investigations into sexual abuse allegations committed by members of the clergy and urged bishops to “speak with one voice in identifying concrete steps” in favour of the persons abused and to “restore the Church’s spiritual and moral credibility.”

He dismissed clerics and accepted resignations and repeatedly demanded that those responsible for abuse be brought to justice and that effective safeguarding measures be implemented.

Furthermore, he begged for forgiveness and spoke of the shame and humiliation suffered by a Church afflicted by sin and spiritual evil.

At the beginning of his Apostolic Journey to Portugal in 2010, Benedict XVI made the following remarks during the customary press conference during the flight: “The greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without, but arises from sin within the Church, and that the Church thus has a deep need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn forgiveness on the one hand, but also the need for justice. Forgiveness does not replace justice”.

Even years after his resignation, the Pope Emeritus found ways to express his thoughts regarding the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church with the publication in 2019 of his reflections. 

Finally, at the beginning of 2022, the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising released a report on the sexual abuse of minors and adults by members of the clergy covering the years 1945-2019 in which the Pope Emeritus was also mentioned in connection with four cases when he served as the Archdiocese’s Ordinary from 1977 to 1982. Shortly afterwards, he responded with a letter addressing the findings of the report on abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising pertaining to him.

Thank you for reading our article. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to our daily newsletter. Just click here

05 January 2023, 16:12