Because I saw how mercy and forgiveness were misused in cases of clerical sexual abuse, I have been suspicious of Pope Francis’s stress on God’s mercy, which seems to lack an equal stress on justice. My suspicious were justified. Nicole Winfield of the AP reports:
Pope Francis has quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of pedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful church even to its worst offenders in ways that survivors of abuse and the pope’s own advisers question.
One case has come back to haunt him: An Italian priest who received the pope’s clemency was later convicted by an Italian criminal court for his sex crimes against children as young as 12. The Rev. Mauro Inzoli is now facing a second church trial after new evidence emerged against him, The Associated Press has learned.
The Inzoli case is one of several in which Francis overruled the advice of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and reduced a sentence that called for the priest to be defrocked, two canon lawyers and a church official told AP. Instead, the priests were sentenced to penalties including a lifetime of penance and prayer and removal from public ministry.
In some cases, the priests or their high-ranking friends appealed to Francis for clemency by citing the pope’s own words about mercy in their petitions.
“With all this emphasis on mercy … he is creating the environment for such initiatives,” the church official said, adding that clemency petitions were rarely granted by Pope Benedict XVI, who launched a tough crackdown during his 2005-2013 papacy and defrocked some 800 priests who raped and molested children.
[Greg] Burke said Francis’ emphasis on mercy applied to “even those who are guilty of heinous crimes.” He said priests who abuse are permanently removed from ministry, but are not necessarily dismissed from the clerical state, the church term for laicization or defrocking.
“The Holy Father understands that many victims and survivors can find any sign of mercy in this area difficult,” Burke said. “But he knows that the Gospel message of mercy is ultimately a source of powerful healing and of grace.”
“While mercy is important, justice for all parties is equally important,” Collins said in an email. “If there is seen to be any weakness about proper penalties, then it might well send the wrong message to those who would abuse.”
It can also come back to embarrass the church. Take for example the case of Inzoli, a well-connected Italian priest who was found guilty by the Vatican in 2012 of abusing young boys and ordered defrocked.
Inzoli appealed and in 2014 Francis reduced the penalty to a lifetime of prayer, prohibiting him from celebrating Mass in public or being near children, barring him from his diocese and ordering five years of psychotherapy.
In a statement announcing Francis’ decision to reduce the sentence, Crema Bishop Oscar Cantoni said “no misery is so profound, no sin so terrible that mercy cannot be applied.”
In November, an Italian criminal judge showed little mercy in convicting Inzoli of abusing five children, aged 12-16, and sentencing him to four years, nine months in prison. The judge said Inzoli had a number of other victims but their cases fell outside the statute of limitations.
Inzoli was a leader in Communion and Liberation. He was known as Don Mercedes because he had a taste for that car. He also had a taste for b0ys. Pope Benedict defrocked Inzoli; Francis reinstated him
La Procura ha contestato a «don Mercedes», come era soprannominato per la sua passione per le auto di lusso, otto abusi sessuali, che il religioso avrebbe commesso tra il 2004 e il 2008 sfruttando la sua autorità di leader di Cl e di rettore del liceo linguistico Shakespeare di Crema, oltre che, per 17 anni, parroco della chiesa della Santissima Trinità della cittadina. Sono invece stati prescritti un’altra quindicina di episodi. I suoi accusatori parlano di baci, abbracci, carezze e altro ancora nello studio accanto all’oratorio o nelle case-vacanze che ospitavano i ritiri spirituali. La giustizia religiosa ha già punito don Inzoli riducendolo, con papa Ratzinger, allo stato laicale. Il sacerdote ha presentato ricorso e, con papa Francesco, la pena è stata ammorbidita: don Inzoli resta prete ma può celebrare messa solo in privato, è bandito da Crema, deve «condurre una vita di preghiera e di umile riservatezza come segni di conversione e penitenza», oltre a intraprendere, per almeno cinque anni, «una terapia adeguata».
Sexual abusers come in all ideological varieties; they worm their way into organizations so they can have access to money and children. The Pope has not learned his lesson. Children suffer.
Addendum: This is how Don Mercedes explained his actions to young boys:
Un ragazzo racconta che nel 1996 don Inzoli lo toccò “nel corso della confessione” e che alla sua richiesta di spiegazioni, il leader carismatico di Cl giustificò gli atti sessuali “facendo riferimento ad una sorta di ‘battesimo dei testicoli’ che gli aveva presentato come un rituale ebraico citato nell’Antico Testamento come segno dell’affetto del padre nei confronti del figlio