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Update 2: Archbishop to step down; Vatican accepts resignation

Mgr Cremona asks Pope for permission to go - sources

Archbishop Paul Cremona is expected to resign as the head of the Maltese Church, Times of Malta learnt last night. The resignation is expected to be made official tomorrow during a press conference. 

The 68-year-old archbishop is believed to have written to Pope Francis requesting to step down, according to sources. It is not yet officially known whether the Vatican has formally accepted his request but TVM this evening reported it was informed by Vatican sources that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation.

Earlier this afternoon, the church news portal Newsbook reported that Bishop Charles Scicluna is expected to take over the administration of the Church until a new Archbishop is appointed.

When contacted, a Curia spokesman said any such questions should be referred to the Apostolic Nunciature, which could not be reached for comment.

Should the Vatican give its blessing, Mgr Cremona would be the first head of the Church in Malta to step down before retirement age since the 19th century.

His resignation would come in the wake of a Church leadership crisis, which climaxed last August when well-known columnist and former Curia official Fr Joe Borg wrote in The Sunday Times of Malta that the Church was demoralised and rudderless.

Priests had also shown their concern about a ‘leadership vacuum’ at a meeting of the Presbyterial Council.

But Mgr Cremona has been constantly fraught with health problems and exhaustion, which sometimes kept him out of the public eye.

Asked by The Sunday Times of Malta last August whether he was feeling pressured to stay in office because it would convey the message that he would have abandoned his mission, Mgr Cremona had replied:

“I hold this position in obedience [to the Pope’s wishes] and will only leave in obedience.”

Mgr Cremona, a Dominican priest, took over the helm from Mgr Joseph Mercieca on January 26, 2007, the day after his 61st birthday, winning the admiration of many.

But his term was a difficult one. He had to deal with growing religious indifference, cases of clerical sex abuse, the introduction of divorce, and, earlier this year, legislation putting gay partnerships on a par with marriage.

Among the highlights of Mgr Cremona’s episcopate were the canonisation of Malta’s first saint  Dun Ġorg Preca in June 2007  and Pope Benedict’s visit to Malta in April 2010.

In October, 2012 the Vatican announced that Mgr Charles Scicluna, then serving in Rome, was to be appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Malta. He became Mgr Cremona’s deputy, but without an automatic right to succeed him.

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