The passing of Benedict XVI at the age of 95 has revived debate on his handling of clerical sex abuse cases, with critics questioning the handling of these cases by the Church. But Pope Benedict XVI record is staunchly defended by a cleric who has played an instrumental role in the Vatican’s handling of such cases: Archbishop Charles Scicluna.

Mgr Scicluna had served as Promoter of Justice within the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, effectively serving as the Vatican’s top prosecutor in cases of clerical misconduct.

He served in the position until 2012, and has been an adjunct secretary within the CDF, which was restructured and renamed the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in June 2022, since 2018.

The Archbishop enjoyed a stellar reputation for his handling of sex abuse cases within the Vatican, which saw him described as the “Vatican’s most respected sex crimes expert” by the Associated Press.

The CDF’s prefect until 2005 had been none other than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, and in comments to, the Archbishop highlighted that he had effectively worked under the former Pope for his entire 10-year term as Promoter of Justice.

Benedict XVI’s record as CDF prefect

The Archbishop started by highlighting Benedict XVI’s achievements as Prefect of the CDF, describing his as “instrumental in the lengthy process that updated the law and procedures on the most grave canonical delicts (crimes; delicta graviora) reserved to the jurisdiction of the CDF.” This culminated in the presentation of a draft law that St John Paul II promulgated as the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (MP SST) in April 2001.

In November 2001, the CDF led by Cardinal Ratzinger secured special faculty to derogate from the statute of limitations to “facilitate an adequate response in the most egregious crimes.” Three months later, the cardinal obtained other special faculties aimed at expediting procedures, at a time when the CDF was dealing with hundreds of historical cases, many hailing from the US.

“Cardinal Ratzinger led the response of the CDF in constant dialogue with the canonical experts at the CDF and the local bishops, promoting formation on all levels,” the Archbishop said. “The review of hundreds of cases of sexual misconduct against minors by clergy gave Cardinal Ratzinger a deeper insight into the dark face of certain aspects of the ministry.”

Archbishop Scicluna also highlighted that Cardinal Ratzinger presented numerous egregious cases directly to the Pope seeking the “ex officio dismissal from the clerical state” (defrocking) of offending clerics, and towards the end of 2004, he ordered a review of all cases that had remained pending at the CDF.

His continued efforts as Pope

Mgr Scicluna retained his post when the cardinal succeeded John Paul II as Pope in 2005, and states that the new Pope “made sure that the work of the CDF be continued and supported.”

“He renewed all the special faculties granted by his predecessor St John Paul II and requested that they be included in a new version of MP SST that he then promulgated in 2010,” he added.

The Archbishop also highlighted that Benedict XVI would review egregious cases presented for his decision by the CDF on a weekly basis.

Moreover, he was the first Pope to dedicate specific meetings with victims of sexual misconduct on his pastoral trips, having first done so in the US and Australia in 2008. He had also done so on his pastoral trip to Malta in 2010, meeting the men who had been victims of child sexual abuse when they were in the case of priests at an orphanage in Santa Venera.

Archbishop Scicluna also referred to the late Pope’s Pastoral Letter to the Catholics in Ireland, in which Benedict XVI had said that he “can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.” His remarks, the Archbishop said, remained a basic reference text.