I have no problem with showing even the worst people mercy. I think that it demonstrates one’s character to show compassion and concern for those who would show you none. However, I do think there should be a limit to what that mercy entails. It is one thing to spare someone’s life or avoid any cruel punishment. It is another to let them off unpunished for their crimes. This is what Pope Francis did with several priests accused of sexually abusing children:
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. […] 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, 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 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.
This makes no sense. Outside of sentencing these men to prison, the only penalty that would likely matter to them would be removal from the priesthood. This seems the least Francis considering that these men preyed on children for years.
What does a lifetime of penance and prayer mean? Are these priests to become monks tucked away in a remote church? How will any of this actually punish those who preyed on children? How will it keep them from abusing again?
It also ignores that in many cases there is more than one victim. This means more victims may come forward, forcing the church to reconsider its penalty. For example, in 2012 the Vatican found Mauro Inzoli guilty of sexual abuse. The Vatican defrocked him, but Inzoli appealed and received a reduced penalty from Francis in 2014. The penalty required the lifetime of prayer, prohibition from celebrating mass or being near children, barred him from his diocese, and also required five years of psychotherapy. However:
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.
Burke disclosed to AP that the Vatican recently initiated a new canonical trial against Inzoli based on “new elements” that had come to light. He declined to elaborate.
It appears the civil authorities are handling the matter properly, yet there is no reason why Inzoli should still be a priest. He should lose his title given the severity of his crimes.
Again, mercy is one thing. Removing punishment for a crime is another. The least that should happen is that men like Inzoli should no longer be allowed to keep their position of power. Even if they are ordered to prayer and penance, by allowing them to continue as priests, they effectively face no punishment. The key thing for them is that title. Taking that away would be the most effective tool for sending the message to them that their actions were wrong.
The counter argument to defrocking priests is that once removed from the office the Vatican cannot keep track of the priests. Yet this proves nonsensical because there have been hundreds of priests who the “punished” by moving them to different locations who later abused more children. Knowing where the priest is does not prevent abuse. Physically keeping abusive priests away from children does.
At the same time, Francis also ordered three longtime staffers at the congregation dismissed, two of whom worked for the discipline section that handles sex abuse cases, the lawyers and church official said.
Francis ignored the proposal for a tribunal to handle bishops who fall to properly handle abuse cases. He also ignored a proposed guideline for dealing with abuse. The proposals ironically came from his own sex-abuse advisory commissions. Yet according to reports, none of them were sent to the bishops’ conferences. Apparently no one even sent them a link to the website.
It would appear that Francis’s response to the abuse scandal is to ignore it as long as possible. That is a terrible position to take because ultimately these people are responsible for their actions. As Marie Collins, a member of the commissions, states in the article:
“All who abuse have made a conscious decision to do so,” Collins told AP. “Even those who are pedophiles, experts will tell you, are still responsible for their actions. They can resist their inclinations.”
These people choose to abuse children. Repeatedly. They choose to hide their crimes. Repeatedly. The Vatican chooses to side with the child abusers over protecting the victims. Repeatedly. The only people who do not have a choice are the children who become these people’s prey.
One would think that mercy would extend to those victims. One would think that this mercy would include the punishment of those who harmed them. This is not to say that every abusive priest should be strung up to die. However, to “punish” them with prayer and penance is laughable.