VATICAN CITY (CNS) — More than a year after Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien admitted to sexual misconduct amid allegations by three priests and a former priest, the Vatican Congregation for Bishops is sending an investigator to the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh to collect testimony.
A statement distributed April 4 by the Scottish Catholic Media Office said Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a longtime abuse investigator for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had been appointed by the Congregation for Bishops “as its special envoy to listen and report on recent serious allegations of misconduct following a request from Pope Francis.”
“I am grateful to the Holy Father and the Congregation for Bishops and see the latter’s action as indicative of the seriousness with which this matter is being taken,” Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh said in the statement.
“I believe that this is a positive step toward truth and eventual reconciliation; this may not be an easy thing to do, but it is the right thing to do,” the archbishop said in the statement.
The National Catholic Reporter, which originally published news about Bishop Scicluna’s appointment, said Archbishop Cushley had invited “past and present members of the clergy” to meet with and tell Bishop Scicluna about “any incidents of sexual misconduct committed against them by other members of the clergy.”
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, forwarded the Scottish statement to those who asked for comment. Catholic News Service was unable to reach Bishop Scicluna.
In two letters dated April 1 and obtained by CNS, Archbishop Cushley advised the priests of the diocese about Bishop Scicluna’s appointment and asked them “to see in this action the pope’s affectionate and fatherly concern for us and for our people.”
The archbishop said he believes “the Holy See is examining the ‘lie of the land’ and trying to establish more precisely the veracity of the various assertions now before it. I would therefore ask you to put your faith in the process and encourage any of you who have something of significance to say about misconduct of individuals in the clergy to get in touch with Bishop Scicluna.”
The archbishop said he personally spoke to Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who “assured me at length that the clergy ought not to be afraid of the process.” The cardinal, he said, “is confident that the enquiry now being launched is the best method available of establishing the truth of the assertions and the way that will ultimately lead us to renewed peace and to the end of this long and difficult road for us and our people.”
Bishop Scicluna was scheduled to be in Scotland April 8-10.
In his public statement, Archbishop Cushley said he hoped all those who wanted to speak to Bishop Scicluna would do so, adding “it is important that such work be conducted in a way that protects those who wish to contribute to it.”
“It is also important that the Holy See take such steps as are necessary to establish and evaluate the serious allegations which have been made over the last 18 months or so,” he said.
The archbishop did not specifically mention Cardinal O’Brien, but the fact that Bishop Scicluna was appointed by the Congregation for Bishops and not the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which usually investigates allegations of sexual abuse by priests, indicated the case involved the cardinal.
The cardinal stepped down Feb. 25, 2013, after the Observer, a British weekly national newspaper, carried a story detailing complaints of three priests and one former priest who alleged Cardinal O’Brien had made sexual advances toward them.
The cardinal initially denied the allegations but, less than a week later, he issued a public apology for his actions. He did not attend the March conclave that elected Pope Francis because, he said, he did not want media attention to be on him rather than on the process of electing a new pope.