Francis on Tuesday named Archbishop Charles Scicluna as a deputy, or adjunct secretary, at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that processes sex abuse cases globally. Scicluna had been the congregation's chief prosecutor for a decade and was credited with pushing through measures making it easier to defrock pedophiles. But Pope Benedict XVI sent him to his native Malta in 2012 as bishop after Scicluna's tough line ruffled too many feathers in the Vatican.
Scicluna's new appointment is symbolically significant and will also give him greater say in the day-to-day running of the congregation, even though he technically retains his post in Malta. Scicluna's Valletta office said Tuesday that he'll be in Rome "on a regular basis" and that a deputy will take over running the archdiocese when he's away, suggesting Scicluna intends the job to be more than part-time.
Francis clearly trusts Scicluna after he asked him to conduct an in-depth investigation in Chile earlier this year that revealed Francis' gross misunderstanding of an abuse and cover-up scandal there.
Scicluna's return to Rome comes as Francis and the church at large are under fire again for the way the Vatican and religious superiors around the globe turned a blind eye to priests who raped and molested children.
The crisis is particularly acute in the U.S., where prosecutors in more than a dozen states have announced investigations into abuse and cover-up following the revelations of the Pennsylvania grand jury report.
In addition, U.S. bishops are reeling from allegations that one of their own, ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, preyed on seminarians and at least two minors, and that his misconduct with adults was an open secret in the U.S. and Vatican.
Francis' record on abuse has long been uneven, and his papacy has been rocked by claims by a Vatican archbishop that he rehabilitated McCarrick in 2013 from sanctions imposed by Benedict. Francis' credibility took another hit this week when the Vatican blocked U.S. bishops from voting on a new code of conduct and a commission involving lay experts to review complaints against brother bishops.
Under church law, only the pope can investigate and discipline bishops. The head of the U.S. conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, admitted the Vatican only received the text after it was finalized Oct. 30, and said Rome had flagged legal problems with it.