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Archbishop tells senior clergy: Spotlight is your guide to speaking out on abuse

Every bishop and cardinal must watch the Oscar-nominated film Spotlight, so they realise reporting abuse – not silence – will save the Church, the Vatican’s former chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases has said.

The film underlines the key problem of ‘omerta’ or a code of silence, Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta told the Italian daily La Repubblica.

“The movie shows how the instinct – that unfortunately was present in the Church – to protect a reputation was completely wrong,“ he said after a showing of the film in Valletta, Malta.

“All bishops and cardinals must see this film because they must understand that it is reporting that will save the Church, not omerta.“

The archbishop, 56, is the head of a board within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that deals with appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse. Before he was named an auxiliary bishop in Malta in 2012, Archbishop Scicluna spent 10 years as promoter of justice at the doctrinal congregation, handling accusations of clerical sex abuse.

He told La Repubblica that an important moment in the film, which looks at the Boston Globe’s investigation into Church leaders covering up abuse allegations, was a line spoken by the lawyer, who said, ‘If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one’.

The archbishop said this shows how complicity was a major part of the problem: While an individual was responsible for an act of abuse, “also guilty are the others – those who know and don’t say anything.”

When the Globe’s investigative series started to be published in January 2002, Archbishop Scicluna said that was the same month the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, called him to help their office handle cases. Pope St John Paul II had put the doctrinal congregation in charge of overseeing cases of clerical sex abuse against minors in 2001.

Pope St John Paul II was also visited by US cardinals just a few months after the Globe began publishing its exposé, and he told them that there was no place in the Church for priests or religious who abused minors.

“It was the beginning of a new era for the Church,” Archbishop Scicluna said.
The fact that even today a member of the Church who is guilty of abuse may go unreported “is a very serious error”, the archbishop said. “It was Ratzinger who told us that it was necessary not to look at the problem simply as a sin but as both a violation and a crime.”

The archbishop denied as “unfounded and unjust” past criticisms by some media that the future-Pope Benedict XVI had covered up abuse when he was head of the doctrinal congregation.

Abuse cases were being handled “on the level of the local dioceses,” the archbishop said.

“In the 1960s and 1970s, many bishops were basing their decisions on the woefully inadequate theory that these crimes were caused by surrounding conditions. And that’s why, instead of reporting the guilty, they moved them from parish to parish. But they remained predators wherever they were.”

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger would hold a special meeting every Friday with his staff, he said, to study the cases before them and to launch a trial. “We all saw his suffering, which often left him absolutely speechless during the meetings,” the archbishop said.

He said the future pope was “indignant as well as deeply affected” by the abuse scandal, condemning it in his well-known Way of the Cross meditation in 2005 when he said, “How much filth there is in the Church.”

Photo: Actors Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James, Michael Keaton and John Slattery star in a scene from the movie Spotlight.
Photo: Open Road films.