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.”
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.
In 2001, the Vatican instituted a massive reform in how it handled the cases of priests who abused children. The power to deal with these cases was taken away from the Congregation of the Clergy and the Roman Rota (the Vatican’s Court), and placed in the office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Subsequently, the volume and speed with which the Catholic Church defrocked abuser priests went up. This was Pope Benedict’s legacy of trying to confront “the filth” in the Church.
Recently, Pope Francis had the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, request an opinion from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, led by Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, regarding the possibility of transferring competence to deal with abuser priests from the CDF back to Clergy and the Rota. Coccopalmerio’s office responded with a positive answer.
And although it was not mentioned in media reports, Pope Francis also discussed this “reform of the reform” on child abuse when he met with his special advisory group, the Council of Cardinals, in mid-December, an official with direct knowledge of the meeting told me. The press office of the Vatican did not respond to requests for confirmation or comment.
Pope Francis has always talked tough on child abuse. In a letter to Catholic bishops on Dec. 28, the feast of the Holy Innocents, he decried child abuse. “Persons responsible for the protection of those children destroyed their dignity. We regret this deeply and we beg forgiveness. We join in the pain of the victims and weep for this sin. The sin of what happened, the sin of failing to help, the sin of covering up and denial, the sin of the abuse of power.”