When the people of Poland think of Malta and the Catholic Church, they usually think of the Knights of Malta, the fraternal order which is active throughout the country. Next week, a different kind of Maltese knight will be arriving: Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta – the island country in the Mediterranean – is coming to Poland on June 14.Scicluna is also the Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and considered Pope Francis’s most trusted expert on clerical sexual abuse, having previously served as the Vatican’s chief prosecutor in abuse cases.
When John Paul II asked then Cardinal Ratzinger to investigate the case of Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legion of Christ, Scicluna was sent to the U.S. and Mexico to speak to the victims and prepare a report. More recently, he led the investigation into the Chilean Church, which resulted in the entire bishops’ conference offering the pontiff their resignation.
The faithful hope this Maltese knight will help the Church in Poland fight the scourge of abuse which has recently come to light in the country.
“Probably nobody in the world besides the pope himself is better equipped to talk to bishops than Archbishop Scicluna,” said Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, the director of Child Protection Center at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
“He was the Promoter of Justice, the state attorney for the Church, if you want, for ten years, and he knows the situation from within like nobody else,” he told Polish television in an interview that will air on Sunday.
Although the sexual abuse crisis in Poland hasn’t arrived at the level it was at in Chile a year ago, the release of the movie “Tell No One” on YouTube in May has caused the greatest turmoil in the staunch Catholic homeland of St. John Paul II.
One significant difference with Chile is that Scicluna hasn’t been sent by Francis. He was invited by the Polish bishops themselves in July 2018. Scicluna did, however, meet with the pope on June 6, although it isn’t known if the Poland trip was on the agenda.
Despite the fact the trip was planned nearly a year ago, the Polish press has linked the Maltese archbishop’s visit with the publicity surrounding “Tell No One” and his papal mission to Chile in January 2018. Headlines have declared him to be the “great inquisitor,” and several articles have suggested that at least some Polish bishops would be forced to resign after the visit.
They may be expecting too much. Scicluna is only scheduled to give a two-hour speech to the bishops, although there will also be time for a Q&A and informal conversations over lunch. The bishops are meeting in Wałbrzych in southwestern Poland, and will also discuss their plan for tackling the abuse crisis in light of legislation released last month by the Vatican.
“I am really glad Archbishop Scicluna responded positively to our invitation,” Gniezno Archbishop Wojciech Polak told Crux.
Polak is the Primate of Poland and Delegate for Child Protection of the Polish bishop’s conference.
“I hope he will not only remind us about and explain the current norms, but above all call to mind and deepen the basic perspective of approaching clerical sexual abuse,” the archbishop said.
While in Poland, Scicluna will give a lecture to the country’s diocesan delegates for child protection on “Awareness, responsibility, and transparency.”
Although not the papal intervention the press has suggested, Scicluna’s visit could prove important during a very sensitive time for the Church in Poland.
The movie “Tell No One” has caused shockwaves in the country, which was already shaken by abuse accusations lodged at some of the more prominent clergy involved in the anti-communist Solidarity movement in the 1980s.
“The number of cases reported increased immensely after the screening of the documentary,” Father Adam Żak, director of the Polish Child Protection Center told Crux, “which only shows the urgency of the need to implement several levels of new ways to protect children and assist victims.”
The film exposed not only horrible encounters of survivors with their abusers, but also flagrant cases of abuse of power. The victims’ stories demonstrated that the Church may have strong and clear rules on child protection, but their application cannot be taken for granted.
According to Zollner, clericalism and power games in Eastern European churches are to blame for neglecting cases of sexual abuse.
“If the Church, also in Poland, doesn’t follow the path of letting go of power, and ignoring the conversation that is going on in society, people will turn away,” the Jesuit priest said.
Polak has made sure Scicluna is fully informed, and sent him a link to the YouTube documentary, which has English subtitles.
The article first appeared in Crux now, June 8, 2019.