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In a short but powerful comment Archbishop Charles Scicluna described the Letter to the People of God written by Pope Francis as “a strong signal that empowers Catholic communities around the world to disclose abuse, support victims, demand accountability from perpetrators and expect stewardship from bishops.”

Archbishop Scicluna’s comment succinctly highlights three of the main aspects of the Pope’s 2000-word letter: the duty of Catholics to reveal abuse, the duty of the Church to support victims and the responsibility of bishops to conscientiously fulfill their obligations.

In what is considered to be a first on the subject, Pope Francis on Monday sent a letter to all Catholics promising that no effort will be spared to create a culture able to effectively prevent such sex abuse crimes from happening. He also argued that the possibility of such crimes being covered up and perpetuated should be prevented. The Pope’s words came in a “Letter to the People of God” and was translated into seven languages.

The Pope wrote the text ahead of his 25 and 26 August trip to Ireland and after the damning report by Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on sex abuse and cover-ups in six dioceses.

A crime, not just a sin – Burke

In 2009/2010, Pope Benedict had written an open letter to Irish Catholics apologising for the abuse scandals that had been revealed. Benedict told  victims and survivors: “You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry.” Pope Francis, on the other hand, preferred to address all Catholics and not just the Irish community that he will be visiting.

Greg Burke, head of the Vatican’s Press Office said that this letter is not only about Ireland, the United States and Chile but this is a letter addressed to the whole people of God. He said that it is significant that the Pope called abuse a crime and not only a sin. Burke said that the contents of the Pope’s letter are shaped by what victims of abuse told him over the years. The Pope, said Burke, is not only emphasising the bishops’ duty for vigilance and accountability but he is also asking all Catholics to do their part.

Significance of the Archbishop’s comment

Archbishop Scicluna’s comment is particularly significant as he has been at the forefront of the Church’s struggle against child sex abuse from the time of the pontificate of St. Pope John Paul II. Scicluna succeeded to investigate where others failed. The case of Marcial Maciel Degallado founder of the powerful Legionaries of Christ is perhaps his most well-known case.

The writers of the report of abuse in the state of Pennsylvania, United States, noted that very few cases of abuse occurred after 2002. This is largely thanks to the service Archbishop Scicluna gave the Church in the United States to build legal and other structures which could control and punish abuse.

Pope Francis has entrusted Archbishop Scicluna with many important investigations the most resent being the mission to Chile. Pope Francis changed his position after reading Scicluna’s report met and apologised to the victims and accepted the resignations of a number of bishops.