POPE Francis has ordered a bishop with experience investigating abuse cases to visit Scotland next week to hear allegations of sexual misconduct made against disgraced former Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
Charles Scicluna, from Malta, will meet priests who have been asked to come forward by Archbishop Leo Cushley, Cardinal O’Brien’s successor as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.
“I believe that this is a positive step towards truth and eventual reconciliation,” said Archbishop Cushley in a statement yesterday, adding, “This may not be an easy thing to do, but it is the right thing to do.”
Cardinal O’Brien, the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, resigned in February 2013 in the wake of allegations made by three priests and one former priest that he had sexual relations with them dating back decades.
The cardinal said at the time that his sexual behaviour had “fallen beneath the standards” expected of him.
Bishop Scicluna, who was officially appointed to head the probe by the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops, is expected to hold a no-holds-barred inquiry after proving his mettle investigating Father Marcial Maciel, the Mexican founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who fathered children. Bishop Scicluna was the Vatican’s promoter of justice – or chief prosecutor – until 2012, before becoming auxiliary bishop in Malta.
“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,” said Archbishop Cushley in his statement.
In a letter sent to priests on 1 April, the archbishop did not mention Cardinal O’Brien, stating that Bishop Scicluna will “listen to and report the testimony offered by past and present members of the clergy of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh concerning any incidents of sexual misconduct committed against them by other members of the clergy whomsoever”.
He asked priests to “prepare their narrative in writing” ahead of the meetings next week.
In a second letter sent to priests on the same day, Archbishop Cushley stated that the inquiry showed “the Pope’s fatherly concern for us and our people. He has spoken of the archdiocese to me personally, and of his wish to help us”.
The archbishop urged priests to “put your faith in the process”, adding that anyone unable or unwilling to make the meetings should post their comments in an envelope marked “confidential” to Bishop Scicluna.
No priests should fear retribution if they came forward, he added.
“In order to allow Bishop Scicluna to listen and report fully, I encourage all those concerned to cooperate serenely with him,” he said in his statement.
“It is important that such work be conducted in a way that protects those who wish to contribute to it.”
A Vatican analyst said the encouragement showed Pope Francis was taking the probe seriously.
“Stressing there will be no fall-out if they speak shows the Pope means business here,” said Gerard O’Connell, of the Vatican Insider website.
Following criticism that he had ignored sexual abuse within the church, the Pope named lay experts for a new commission on the scandal in March.
Mr O’Connell said launching an investigation into allegations against a cardinal was a sign of courage. “It shows he is not afraid to tackle anyone, however high up,” he said.
Archbishop Cushley also said in his letter to priests that he had spoken to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, who “assured me at length that the clergy ought not to be afraid of the process”.
The probe was the best way to reach “the end of this long and difficult road”, he said.