Vatican sex crimes chief defends archbishop


THE VATICAN’S senior sex crimes prosecutor, Maltese Msgr Charles Scicluna, said on Saturday that he respected the right of the Archbishop of Dublin to speak out and “say whatever he thinks needs to be said”.

Msgr Scicluna, the chief promoter of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, struck a diplomatic tone when asked about Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s recent public criticism of the slowness of the Holy See’s apostolic visitation process in Ireland, saying: “I respect his freedom to say whatever he thinks needs to be said . . .”

Msgr Scicluna was speaking on the margins of a press conference at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, held to promote Towards Healing And Renewal, a symposium for Catholic bishops and religious superiors to be held next February.

Also among the speakers was Baroness Sheila Hollins, professor of psychiatry at St George’s University in London and one of the visitors led by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor to the Armagh archdiocese.

Reflecting on the visitation process, Baroness Hollins expressed hope that the Vatican’s report, due to be released early next year, “won’t be too long in coming”. She did, however, point out that given that all five visitation teams worked “in different ways, independently”, it would take some time to assess their separate reports.

Baroness Hollins said Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s team had spent 2½ weeks in Armagh, meeting approximately 350 people, including many victims of clerical sex abuse. Meetings with victims were both public and private since it was felt that people who might not want to meet the visitors on an individual basis, might feel safer in a group context.

“There were 60-70 people present at these meetings . . . our endeavour was to listen to people, to summarise what we heard, not in any way to try to be defensive . . .,” Baroness Hollins said.

After a few introductory words from the cardinal and herself, people were asked if they wanted to speak. Usually 15 or 16 people raised their hands at that point, meaning they were all restricted to just three or four minute.

“Some people were very upset when they spoke, many were extremely angry. Perhaps the most common thing that was said was that the church had been arrogant and had failed to listen.

“Some people said it was the first time they had spoken about the abuse; most had come with a friend or family member, some were extremely distressed . . .,” said Baroness Hollins.

“One of the things that is very hard is to really listen, to really hear the anger and the shame and the loss in people’s lives and to find a way to help people lift the veil of silence. Victims of trauma know if you are not able to hear what they have to say and they will stop talking if they think that you haven’t the capacity to hear them . . .”

The 200 bishops and religious superiors who, along with experts in psychiatry, canon law and child protection will attend next February’s symposium, have been encouraged to hold similar meetings with victims before the conference. Although not a Holy See initiative, but rather promoted by the Gregorian University, the symposium will rely heavily on input from different Vatican dicasteries while senior Holy See figures such as Msgr Scicluna and Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are scheduled to speak.

Underlining the Vatican’s “imprimatur” was senior Holy See spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, who said: “This is an element in a profound and serious process of healing and renewal.”