Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday appointed as the Vatican's new sex crimes prosecutor a priest who handled clergy sexual abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church in Boston at the height of the scandal and for years afterward.
The pope also pardoned his former butler, who was serving a prison term after leaking confidential documents in the Vatican's most embarrassing security breach in decades.
The Vatican said the Rev. Robert W. Oliver, the top canon lawyer at the Archdiocese of Boston under Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, would be the "promoter of justice" at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's doctrinal office that reviews all abuse cases.
In a statement released by the Archdiocese of Boston, Father Oliver said, "It is with deep humility and gratitude that I received the news that the Holy Father is entrusting me with this service to the church."
Father Oliver was among the canon lawyers brought in to advise Cardinal Bernard F. Law on sexual abuse cases in Boston, where the church's sexual abuse scandal erupted anew in 2002. He was put in charge of the office investigating charges against accused priests after the cardinal was forced to resign in 2002 amid an uproar over revelations that the cardinal had kept abusive priests working in parishes.
Father Oliver helped write the archdiocese's new abuse prevention policy in 2003. He has been serving as a canon lawyer for the archdiocese and as a visiting professor of canon law at Catholic University of America in Washington.
Advocates for abuse victims in the Boston Archdiocese criticized his record on Saturday. Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of Bishop Accountability, a watchdog group that maintains an archive of abuse cases and documents, said in an interview, "Reverend Oliver is a champion of accused priests, which obviously does not bode well for the job he will do as promoter of justice."
She said that under that under Father Oliver's guidance, the Boston Archdiocese reported that between 2003 and 2005 it had cleared 32 of 71 accused priests, about 45 percent, saying it did not find "probable cause" to pursue abuse cases against them. That was a far higher clearance rate than the 10 percent reported by other dioceses nationwide, according to a report in 2005 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
She also said the new policy on abuse that Father Oliver helped write in 2003 allows accused priests to remain in the ministry without being publicly identified while allegations against them are investigated. In contrast, laypeople suspected of abuse who work or volunteer for the church are to be immediately suspended.
Father Oliver is not expected to grant any interviews, said Terrence C. Donilon, a secretary for communications for the Archdiocese of Boston. But he said, "Any attacks on Father Oliver's distinguished track record of service to the church and his many contributions to the response to clergy sexual abuse are unfounded and just plain wrong."
As for the archdiocese's policy and record, Mr. Donilon also said, "We do not have any priests in active ministry who have been credibly accused of child abuse." He added that the archdiocese immediately turns over all allegations to civil authorities and has put in place many measures to prevent abuse.
Father Oliver succeeds Msgr. Charles Scicluna, 53, who was promoted to auxiliary bishop in his native Malta in October. A friendly canon lawyer, Monsignor Scicluna found himself in the eye of the storm after being named promoter of justice in 2002.
The same year, Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, decreed that all abuse cases be sent directly to the doctrinal office. But bishops later said the decree was not explained clearly and confusion lingered over how dioceses should handle abuse cases.
When the scandal erupted in Europe in 2010, with cases emerging in Ireland and the pope's native Germany -- including some that called into question how Benedict handled an abuse case when he was archbishop of Munich in 1980 -- the Vatican issued new guidelines, essentially telling bishops to report abuse cases to the police where local laws required it.
The Vatican also said Saturday that Benedict had pardoned his former butler, Paolo Gabriele, 46, who had been sentenced to prison after admitting to leaking confidential documents that formed the basis of a tell-all book on alleged misdeeds, financial mismanagement, back-stabbing and infighting within the Vatican.
Laurie Goodstein reported from New York, and Rachel Donadio from Rome.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.