Child protection expert named head of Malta archdiocese

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A month after naming him president of a Vatican board hearing appeals in clerical sex abuse cases, Pope Francis tapped Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta to be the new head of the archdiocese.

At a news conference that began moments after his appointment was announced Feb. 27, Scicluna, 55, said that since hearing the news five days earlier, "I wouldn't say I've had sleepless nights, but I'm not sleeping as peacefully as before."

He succeeds Archbishop Paul Cremona, who resigned for health reasons in October at the age of 68.

The Malta archdiocese has been operating at a deficit for years and Scicluna said the first thing he will do is "listen to the people who already have done a lot of work" studying how chancery operations can be restructured to reduce the deficit and improve efficiency.

The new archbishop's news conference was live streamed on the Internet, but most of the questions and answers were in Maltese. According to the Malta Independent, he told reporters he will continue to live with his parents in Lija and will use the official archbishop's residences for meetings.

Although born in Toronto, he has lived in Malta since he was a year old. He did his university and seminary studies in Malta and was ordained to the priesthood in 1986. He was sent to Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University to obtain a degree in canon law.

Before he was named the auxiliary bishop in 2012, he spent 10 years as promoter of justice at the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, handling accusations of clerical sex abuse. He gained a reputation for treating victims with compassion and respect, and for insisting church officials respond to allegations clearly and without creating "a culture of silence or repression."

Even since returning to Malta, Scicluna has continued to be someone the Vatican turned to for advice and assistance in promoting child protection. In 2014, he traveled to Geneva to testify before the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, and in April, he traveled to Scotland to collect testimony in a case against Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the former archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, who resigned in 2013 after admitting to sexual misconduct.

In November, Pope Francis established the new board of review to speed up the process of hearing and ruling on appeals filed by priests laicized or otherwise disciplined in sexual abuse or other serious cases. In January, he named Scicluna president of the board.

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