Pope Francis has quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of paedophile 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 Inzoli case is one of several in which Pope 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 Pope Francis for clemency by citing the Pope’s own words about mercy, the church official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the proceedings are confidential. “With all this emphasis on mercy... he is creating the environment for such initiatives,” the official said, adding that clemency petitions were rarely granted by Pope Benedict XVI, who launched a tough crackdown during his papacy and defrocked some 800 priests who raped and molested children.
At the same time, the Pope also ordered three long-time staffers at the congregation dismissed, two of whom worked for the discipline section that handles sex abuse cases, the lawyers and church official said.