That is the headline from The Week story by Michael Brendan Dougherty. The gist: Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict had made the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) the agency responsible for dealing with sex abuse claims against clergy. Under the CDF’s auspices, the volume and speed with which the Catholic Church defrocked abuser priests went up. Since 2004, the Vatican had received some 3,400 cases, had defrocked 848 priests and sanctioned another 2,572 to lesser penalties. This was Pope Benedict’s legacy of trying to confront “the filth” in the Church.
But Pope Francis has decided to re-assign this responsibility back to Congregation of the Clergy and the Roman Rota (the Vatican’s Court). This could be a mere adminstrative change, done for innocent administrative reasons.
Or not. According to Dougherty’s reporting: (I utilize the Fr. Z protocol of placing my own commentary in color.)
Rumors of this reform (of returning the responsibility for clergy sex abuse cases back to the Rota) 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.” Does “Cardinal friends?” = Men using their positions of authority for selfish purposes?
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. Dougherty goes on to give sickening specifics:
Fr. Mauro 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, (Remember these two names. They appear later in this story,) 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.”
Dougherty offers his own explanation of Pope Francis’s handling of personnel issues:
Pope Francis doesn’t always take the direct approach when trying to kneecap his critics within the church, or the obstacles to his reform in the Vatican. Sometimes, he goes around them…
That has been Francis’ approach with CDF, led by the German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, in the past. When Pope Francis wanted to change the process for declaring marriages null, he essentially skipped over Müller, a constant critic of the pope’s views on marriage and the sacraments. = a constant upholder of the Ancient Teachings of the Church.
Instead the pope went to Cardinal Coccopalmerio. The loyalty of Monsignor Pinto is unquestioned. It was Pinto who lashed out at four cardinals (The Good Guys, in the overall picture) who publicly questioned the orthodoxy of the pope’s recent document, Amoris Laetitia. There they are again: Cardinals loyal to Pope Francis, but not to the Ancient Teachings of the Church. The four cardinals criticized the document for encouraging changes to Catholic sacramental practice they held to be impossible given Catholic doctrine. Pinto reminded them that the pope could remove their status as cardinals. Meanwhile Cardinal Müller seemed to be giving aid and comfort to these cardinals, saying that the sacramental practice of giving communion to people in adulterous relationships could not be endorsed.
In any case, on abuse, the justice dealt out by Müller’s CDF seems to be too harsh for the pope and his allies. And so, the pope hopes to render the CDF irrelevant in these cases. Mercy for whom? Whose Justice?
I admit that Dougherty’s reporting is hardly neutral, with gangster-esque phrases like the Pope “kneecaping his critics,” and political phrases like “the pope and his allies.”
Still, we should keep an eye on this story. Who knows where it will lead? As Dougherty says,
While the press may cheer him for undoing John Paul II’s teaching on communion for the divorced, they may not cheer him for lightening the penalties on child molesters who happen to have friends in his inner circle.