“The Holy See gets it,” said Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former sex crimes prosecutor, in testimony yesterday before the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva. I’m not so sure.
In the Middle Ages, it would have been a big step forward for church officials to allow that clergy are subject to the criminal laws of the countries in which they reside. By the standards of today, it was an evasion for Scicluna to testify that civil courts are responsible for handling crimes by priests. When a priest is shown to be an abuser of children, the Church assumes the responsibility of taking him out of circulation, and if defrocking is required, that’s in the Vatican’s own hands. These ecclesiastical processes are themselves critical to protecting children.
So is disciplining bishops who cover up abuse cases. And that’s what the Vatican has never yet admitted by word or deed.
After his testimony, Scicluna was questioned on that score by Vatican Insider’s Gerard O’Connell:
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?
A. I 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. 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.
A. Bishops 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.
And bishops aren’t also accountable to Rome? Given the Vatican’s readiness to punish them for doctrinal, fiscal, and indeed personal sexual misbehavior, the answer is obvious.
Meanwhile, in Vatican City Pope Francis was celebrating Mass with retired Los Angeles archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony — second to none, not even Bernard Law, in the covering up of abuse scandals. Yes, the pope did use his homily to address the issue of the day: “But are we ashamed? So many scandals that I do not want to mention them individually, but we all know about them…But are we really all ashamed of those scandals, of those defeats of priests, bishops, laity?”
Over at Whispers, even the devoted Rocco Palmo called this exercise in collective shaming “a bomb of a Domus speech.” Mahony, who no one ever accused of lacking chutzpah, happily quoted the pope’s remarks and went on to describe his private audience as entirely concerned with the plight of migrants. No mention of the scandals to the Church’s leading scandal-monger? If Francis gets it, he’s yet to show it.