The Avvenire newspaper of the Italian Bishops' Conference printed an interview on Saturday which sheds light on how cases of sexual abuse are dealt with in the Catholic Church. The role of then-Cardinal Ratzinger in the providing the guidelines for the Congregation's processing of 3,000 cases in the last nine years is also examined.
Avvenire interviewed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's "promoter of justice," Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna, who investigates crimes against the Eucharist, the sanctity of the Sacrament of Penance and the sixth commandment, "You shall not commit adultery," all of which fall under the category of "delicta graviora" (serious transgressions).
In the interview, which is printed in its entirety in English on Vatican Radio's website, Msgr. Scicluna affirms the Church's historically firm stance against pedophilia, saying that "the condemnation of this kind of crime has always been firm and unequivocal." He concedes, however, that in practice "It may be that in the past - perhaps also out of a misdirected desire to protect the good name of the institution - some bishops were ... too indulgent towards this sad phenomenon."
He added that secrecy in the cases has not been practiced to hide facts, but has been employed in the "investigative phase" to protect "the good name of all the people involved; first and foremost, the victims themselves, then the accused priests who have the right - as everyone does - to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty."
"The Church does not like showcase justice," he underscored.
Msgr. Scicluna said that the accusation that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had covered up the facts as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is "false and calumnious." He added that the future Pope had displayed "great wisdom and firmness in handling those cases."
"Therefore," he said, "to accuse the current Pontiff of a cover-up is, I repeat, false and calumnious."
A "poor" translation of the English version of a text called “Instruction Crimen Sollicitation” from Pius XI's pontificate in 1922, "has led people to think that the Holy See imposed secrecy in order to hide the facts," he explained.
Msgr. Scicluna revealed that when a priest is accused of a delictum gravius (serious transgressions), first the local bishop must investigate the accusation and find it to be well founded. If the outcome of the first investigation sustains the accusations, the case is referred to the disciplinary office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In the last nine years, said Msgr. Scicluna, the Congregation has dealt with three thousand cases of crimes committed over the last fifty years by diocesan and religious priests. He added that "about 60 percent of the cases chiefly involved sexual attraction towards adolescents of the same sex, another 30 percent involved heterosexual relations, and the remaining 10 percent were cases of pedophilia in the true sense of the term."
These 300 cases, he continued, "are of course too many, but it must be recognized that the phenomenon is not as widespread as has been believed."
Of those accused, twenty percent had a full trial, the majority of which resulted in convictions, he indicated. Sixty percent of cases did not go to trial, mostly due to the advanced age of the accused, but, he assured, administrative and disciplinary provisions have been issued against them.
"It must be made absolutely clear that in these cases, some of which are particularly sensational and have caught the attention of the media, no absolution (of the crime) has taken place," he emphasized.
For 10 percent of the remaining 20 percent of cases, "in which the proof is overwhelming, the Holy Father has assumed the painful responsibility of authorizing a decree of dismissal from the clerical state."
In the final 10 percent the accused priests themselves requested dispensation from their priestly obligations, "requests which were promptly accepted," the monsignor said.
Most of the 3,000 cases, he said, have come from the United States, but the percentage of cases from the U.S. has dropped in recent years.
Last year, of 223 cases reported worldwide, around 25 percent came from the U.S.
Although there has been an average of 250 cases a year in the last few years, Msgr. Scicluna said the number is "reduced."
"It must, in fact, be borne in mind that the overall number of diocesan and religious priests in the world is four hundred thousand, but this statistic does not correspond to the perception that is created when these sad cases occupy the front pages of the newspapers," he said.