The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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Archbishop Scicluna: Clerical abuse reporters will be fully protected under new Church law

David Lindsay Sunday, 12 May 2019, 09:30 Last update: about 6 years ago

Anyone reporting the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy will be afforded full whistleblower protection, Archbishop of Malta Charles Scicluna told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Archbishop Scicluna, on behalf of the Catholic Church, earlier this week unveiled a groundbreaking raft of new Church laws making it compulsory for any member of the clergy who knows of abuse taking place to report it immediately.

Speaking to The Malta Independent yesterday, Archbishop Scicluna stressed that not only is every cleric the world over duty-bound to report any abuse they know of, they will be fully protected against any discrimination and harassment that may result from doing so, with checks and balances in place for reports to be received and a support structure for the victims of abuse.

Archbishop Scicluna explains the checks and balances put in place, to which not even he is immune: “Procedures for reporting and investigating have been put in place for when people in authority within the Church – such as cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, and major superiors – commit crimes or are guilty of misconduct.

“There is a role given to the metropolitan, the senior bishop in a province. For example, I am the metropolitan of Malta and my brother bishop is the bishop of Gozo. So if I am guilty of misconduct, people should go to the bishop of Gozo to report me, and if the bishop of Gozo needs to be reported, people come to me.

“Furthermore, in every case, the representative of the Holy See in the country, the nuncio, is also to be informed. The more important thing is that all these procedures follow a very close link with the Holy See and the metropolitan and the Holy See’s policy indications. 

“This is a guarantee of impartiality and it is also a guarantee of that link between the local Church and the Holy See.”

And while there are no sanctions etched in stone for a member of the clergy who is aware of abuse taking place but fails to report it, Archbishop Scicluna warns that, “Certainly if a person knows of a crime and does not disclose it to the authority, they are actually breaking the law of the Church because the law of the Church now makes it a legal obligation to report.”

As far as the Church’s laypeople are concerned, they are not under any similar obligation to report, but they nevertheless have the same rights as members of the clergy reporting abuse.

In such cases, Archbishop Scicluna explains, when it comes to reporting to State authorities, the new Church law has introduced another first for the Catholic faith in that it dictates that when it comes to reporting, laws pertaining to individual countries should be followed. 

He adds, “The Holy See is not in the business of telling states what their laws should be, but we have a duty to say that the law of the land needs to be obeyed, and that is exactly what we are saying.”

Although Archbishop Scicluna clearly spearheaded the new law, and introduced it earlier this week during a press conference at the Vatican, he refuses to take credit, describing its advent as “a team effort seen through with the determination of Pope Francis.”

It was last summer that Pope Francis had written a letter to the people of God asking them to cooperate in the fight against the sexual abuse of minors and all other forms of abuse.

The archbishop explains how the genesis of the new law was in the United States, which has been rocked by sex abuse scandals. 

“In the autumn of last year, US bishops recognised that they need to have a structure and procedures for accountability of leadership in the Church. The Pope called a meeting of bishops in February and, as such, all initiatives were stayed until then.

“This latest development is also the result of aspects that were under discussion even before February, but which were placed under the spotlight then. And now we have this new law.

“It will certainly take time for people to digest whatever the law is asking them to do. I think that nuncios in every country will need to follow up implementation with each country and also with the offices of the Holy See.

“The reports and comments I’ve seen so far are quite positive, but some people are certainly expressing the need to elaborate on other aspects of the issue.

“The law that was promulgated on 7 May, announced on 9 May, and which will come into force on 1 June does not solve every aspect of this, but it is, I think, a step in the right direction.

“I also think that in the coming months we will also see more developments that come as fruit of the February meeting.”

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