Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Archbishop of Malta and recently appointed adjunct secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, delivered the first Campion lecture of the 2018-2019 academic year entitled “Episcopal Ministry: Witness, Oversight and Stewardship in Communion.” For over a decade, Scicluna has been at the forefront of the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis. He has a long and distinguished record of investigating and prosecuting abusive priests and negligent bishops since his first appointment to the Congregation to the Doctrine of the Faith in 2002. His lecture situated the issue of accountability and oversight for bishops in the larger context of episcopal leadership. The lecture was introduced by the Master of Campion Hall, Rev. Dr. James Hanvey, SJ, and chaired by the University’s Chancellor, Lord Patten of Barnes.
Scicluna argued that bishops must be held to a standard of professional competence in their governance. He highlighted Pope Francis’ recent Motu Proprio “As a Loving Mother” which established that “the diocesan Bishop or Eparch can only be removed if he is objectively lacking in a very grave manner the diligence that his pastoral office demands of him.” The document explicitly names mishandling sexual abuse claims as such a grave matter. The standard for removal includes both those morally culpable of hiding abuse and those who failed to exercise sufficient care and thus inadvertently concealed abuse. Further penalties are appropriate for those who actively concealed abuse.
Enforcing current church law and developing that law to address the abuse crisis is necessary but not sufficient. Scicluna located the law of accountability in a broader, biblical understanding of episcopal leadership. He articulated four essential characteristics of episcopal ministry: Shephard, Witness, Overseer, and Steward, through a close reading of the New Testament as well as his own reflection on episcopal ministry. The bishop as witness is accountable to God and human beings in faithfully passing on the message of the Gospel. The bishop as overseer and shepherd imitates Christ. Scicluna draws particular attention between the description of Christ as Shephard and Guardian of souls (1 Peter 2:25) and the expectations of Church leaders (Acts 20:28). Finally, the bishop is to be a prudent steward of the gifts entrusted to him, always keeping in mind that he will be accountable to God for his stewardship (Lk 12:35-48).
Scicluna argued that the four characteristics of episcopal leadership are best expressed within the context of a synodal Church in communion with and under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome. A synodal Church is one in which the structures of the Church allow for wide participation and accountability while preserving the particular charisms of different roles and ministries in the Church.
Responding to a question from the Chancellor, Scicluna emphasized that the members and leadership of the Church must be accountable to civil law, especially in cases of abuse, calling this a demand not only of the Gospel but of basic human decency. He went on to argue that the only way forward for the Church in the midst of this crisis is to transparently address the wounds that have been caused, quoting from John’s Gospel that the truth will set us free (John 8:32).
Scicluna was asked if he considered Pope John Paul II’s canonization premature given lingering questions regarding the former Pope’s leadership on sexual abuse. He offered a twofold response. First, he noted that in communist Poland calumny was a frequently used tool of the government against the Church. Based on his previous experience, John Paul was inclined to disbelieve reports against priests and bishops as calumnious. Second, speaking from his own experience, Scicluna recounted that he began his work combating clergy sexual abuse under John Paul II. After the first-round of revelations of abuse in the United States, John Paul famously declared that there is “No place in the priesthood for those who would harm children.” Scicluna credits John Paul for beginning his own ministry of preventing and prosecuting abuse.