Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Pope Francis & Child Abusers

The pontiff talks a good game about reforming the Church's handling of abusive priests. But he's not serious

Michael Brendan Dougherty has published a blockbuster column today. Excerpts:

The Catholic Church has long been plagued by sickening scandals involving priests abusing children. And there is reportedly another scandal coming — this one of the pope’s own making.

Two people with direct ties to the Vatican tell me that Pope Francis, following the advice of his clubby group of allies in the curia, is pressing to undo the reforms that were instituted by his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI in handling the cases of abuser priests. Francis is pushing ahead with this plan even though the curial officials and cardinals who favor it have already brought more scandal to his papacy by urging him toward lenient treatment of abusers.

It has to do with something as seemingly dry as curial reform. But Dougherty contends that what’s really going on is Francis is protecting friends and punishing enemies — and using something as critically important as cleaning up the Church’s handling of abuser priests to do it. More:

Rumors of this reform have been circulating in Rome for months. And not happily. Pope Francis and his cardinal allies have been known to interfere with CDF’s judgments on abuse cases. This intervention has become so endemic to the system that cases of priestly abuse in Rome are now known to have two sets of distinctions. The first is guilty or innocent. The second is “with cardinal friends” or “without cardinal friends.”

And indeed, Pope Francis is apparently pressing ahead with his reversion of abuse practices even though the cardinals who are favorable to this reform of reform have already brought him trouble because of their friends.

Consider the case of Fr. Mauro Inzoli. Inzoli lived in a flamboyant fashion and had such a taste for flashy cars that he earned the nickname “Don Mercedes.” He was also accused of molesting children. He allegedly abused minors in the confessional. He even went so far as to teach children that sexual contact with him was legitimated by scripture and their faith. When his case reached CDF, he was found guilty. And in 2012, under the papacy of Pope Benedict, Inzoli was defrocked.

But Don Mercedes was “with cardinal friends,” we have learned. Cardinal Coccopalmerio and Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, now dean of the Roman Rota, both intervened on behalf of Inzoli, and Pope Francis returned him to the priestly state in 2014, inviting him to a “a life of humility and prayer.” These strictures seem not to have troubled Inzoli too much. In January 2015, Don Mercedes participated in a conference on the family in Lombardy.

This summer, civil authorities finished their own trial of Inzoli, convicting him of eight offenses. Another 15 lay beyond the statute of limitations. The Italian press hammered the Vatican, specifically the CDF, for not sharing the information they had found in their canonical trial with civil authorities. Of course, the pope himself could have allowed the CDF to share this information with civil authorities if he so desired.

Read the whole thing. It brings to mind Francis’s repugnant handling of a case in Chile, relayed in this National Catholic Reporter story in October 2015. Excerpt:

On Oct. 2, a Chilean news channel brought to light a May 6 recording of Pope Francis defending Bishop Juan Barros, who was recently assigned to Osorno, Chile, despite allegations that the new bishop covered up clergy sex abuse by a priest in the 1980s and 1990s.

Though evidence of the priest’s abuse was verified by Chile’s judicial court, statute of limitations allowed Fr. Fernando Karadima to dodge prosecution. When a separate Vatican investigation found the priest guilty of abuse, he was condemned in 2011 to a life of prayer and penance in a convent outside of Santiago.

“[The diocese] lost its independence once it let its head be filled with what politicians say, who are judging a bishop without any evidence, even after 20 years as bishop,” Francis said in the May 6 recording, before a group of Chilean Catholics in Rome who asked the pope to send a message to those in Osorno disappointed by the arrival of Barros. “Think with your heads and do not be led by the noses by the lefties who orchestrated this whole thing,” he said in Spanish, as translated by NCR.

Though Barros was never tried for covering up Karadima’s abuse, testimonial evidence has suggested Barros destroyed incriminating correspondence, while other victim testimonies claimed Barros was present during the sexual acts. Though Chilean courts uphold the testimonial evidence, Barros has denied the allegations and has never faced a canonical or civil case.

Francis appointed Barros bishop of Osorno in March, meeting stiff resistance by its people, most notably demonstrated by the hundreds of protestors at Barros’ installation Mass March 21. Francis made the appointment despite the objections, which haven’t abated.

In the video from May, Francis said, “The only charges brought against Barros were discredited by the judicial court, so please do not lose serenity,” he continued. “Osorno suffers, yes, but for being foolish, because they do not open their hearts to what God says, and instead get carried away by all this silliness that everyone speaks of.”

“To what God says.” Hey, God has forgiven, you ungrateful people of Osorno, so why can’t you? Besides, I’m the Pope. Who are you to question?

As ever with church leaders who talk about reform, don’t listen to what they say, but rather watch what they do.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now