In an extensive interview with Fox News, the chief Vatican prosecutor for clerical sex abuse cases, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, said he watched Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s “compassion, anger and frustration” as the future pope reviewed hundreds of cases between 2002-2005.
When asked if those three years fundamentally changed Ratzinger’s view of the abuse scandal, Scicluna said the experience would change anybody.
“I think it was an eye-opener to the gravity of the situation and to the great sadness of priestly betrayal and priestly failure,” he said. “I think that anybody who has to review so many cases will certainly change his perspective on things, on human failings, but also on the great suffering they create.”
While Benedict has been accused of mishandling abuse cases, as an Archbishop in Germany, and also as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, Scicluna rejected those charges.
The priest, who grew up on the island of Malta, said those who worked with the future Pope in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were full of admiration for him and his “courage and determination” in dealing with the crisis.
“I am a direct witness to the compassion, the frustration and the anger that these cases instilled in Cardinal Ratzinger, the man, Joseph Ratzinger,” Scicluna said.
While Scicluna seems determined to avoid using the term “crisis,” he insists on calling sin by its name, and crime as well.
“People call this a crisis,” he said. “It is certainly a challenge to the Church, but it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to call sin sin in its face, and do something about it. It is an opportunity for the church to show itself determined in its fight against sin, against crime.”
While the sexual abuse of minors clearly does not take place only in church circles, Fox asked Scicluna if he thought the Catholic Church should be held to a higher standard.
“I think so,” Scicluna responded. “Because we do stand for a very clear message which should be a light to the world. So we do complain about the headlines sometimes, but the headlines are a reflection that the world takes what we say very seriously, and is scandalized when what we do does not correspond to what we say.”
Scicluna, whose official title is the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said a priest who abuses makes a “mockery” of his vocation.
“There is a sacred trust which has been violated,” he said. “The priest has been ordained to be an icon, a living image of Jesus Christ. He is another Christ at the altar, when he preaches. Now when he abuses, he shatters that icon.”
He said the Church has to face up to the truth, even if it’s not very nice: “There’s no other way out of this situation, except facing the truth of the matter.”
Scicluna said the Church has to be severe with offenders, as Christ was: “He had words of fire against people who would scandalize the young. And if we stick to his words and are loyal to his teaching, we are on very good ground. We are not alone.”