“A child abuse scandal is coming for Pope Francis”

benedict-xvi
Pope Benedict’s legacy: defrocking over 800 priests for child sex abuse.

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: 

don-mercedes
Don Mercedes aka Fr. Child Molester, defrocked by Benedict, resurrected under Francis.

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.

The injustice of judging your own case

In yesterday’s post, I noted that Austen Ivereigh’s defense of Amoris Laetitia laid out a detailed proposal for how a person in an irregular marital situation might be allowed to receive communion.

What Amoris says is that a pastor approved by his bishop should arrange for, in effect, a long retreat involving an amoris-laetitia-coverexamination of conscience, a facing-up to truth, a light-and-shadows discernment, applying the truths of Catholic doctrine on indissolubility and the Eucharist to this particular, unique, concrete situation.

As far as I know, Amoris Laetitia contains no proposal creating a procedure for using the so-called internal forum. Mr. Ivereigh is proposing something not required by Amoris Laetitia itself.

Anyhow, I thought the point of  seeking a new statement on marriage was that legalism is objectionable. A specific procedure for 1. invoking the need for the “internal forum” and 2. actually doing the discernment, amounts to a new round of “legalism.”

If there isn’t such a procedure, the person in question essentially becomes the judge in his or her own case. I decide that my situation, although objectively adulterous, does not really bar me from the sacraments. I am not accountable to anyone on earth for this judgment.

To go back to the “obvious” case that Ivereigh proposed, what is to stop the abusive, abandoning husband from discerning on his own authority that he may worthily receive communion? The idea that he must have a priest’s permission to enter into the discernment process and to agree about his worthiness, doesn’t really solve the problem. What is to stop him from finding a friendly priest who agrees with him? Without any canonical process or even guidelines, what guides the priest?

Nothing. Except the priest’s own sense of how Amoris Laetitia fits in with the overall tradition that came before it.

We cannot forgo pastoral or canonical procedures completely.  It simply cannot be done. We cannot escape this problem.

british-judge-w-wig
Judge Thyself.

It is also “obvious,” but seldom discussed, that the vast majority of civil divorces are acts of injustice toward the abandoned spouse and especially toward the children. Who is taking their part? Who is standing for the integrity of the bond? Shouldn’t the Church be more prepared to accompany the victims than the perpetrators? Who stands for compassion for the children whose lives have been turned upside down? How do they feel when they see their abusive, abandoning or adulterous father going to Mass and receiving communion? Does anyone care how they feel?

One might say that this goes on already, and I would not argue. One might say that this is the way the American church has been handling contraception since 1968. Again, I would not argue.

But these are scandalous situations, that have done great harm to jpii-familiaris-consortiothe Church, her witness and to the souls who have been deprived of the fullness of Catholic teaching.

These situations should be corrected, not replicated.

John Paul II’s treatment of these issues in Familiaris Consortio was clear and compassionate. This is the document, which in practice, ought to guide pastors. The quest for either mercy or justice with no procedures at all is a vain quest.