How Pope Francis handles abuse cases and the CDF

At the American Conservative see Rod Dreher’s piece “Pope Francis & Child Abusers”. Dreher references Doughery’s “blockbuster” column at This Week.

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.


So why revert?

Perhaps because the CDF has taken a tough, rules-based approach to the issue of child abuse, which clashes with the more personal autocratic style of this pope. Or perhaps because reforming the reform would reward his allies, and humiliate an antagonist.

Rumors of this reform 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.”

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.

The Holy Father seems to be targeting the CDF for special treatment these days. The translation of competence in the matter of abusers from CDF to some other dicastery could be a sign that he intends to do even more to diminish the CDF.

Moreover, Dreher links Doughery’s piece to the case of the Chilean bishop relayed by the Fishwrap.  I wonder that he did not include the case of the Argentinian scandal.

Meanwhile, Ross Douthat tweeted out…

At the same time that this is coming out Jesuit-run Amerika posted an AP story about Pope Francis as “zero-tolerance”.

The moderation queue is ON.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Clerical Sexual Abuse, Francis, Priests and Priesthood, Self-absorbed Promethean Neopelagians, Sin That Cries To Heaven, The Coming Storm, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. frmh says:

    Unfortunately the Holy Father isn’t an infallible judge of personalities and character, he is clearly trying to intervene with mercy where he thinks it is appropriate- maybe sometimes he gets it right, but on at least a couple of times these “inspired acts of mercy” turn out to be foolish, imprudent and harmful to the church.

    Overall to the outside world the thing just looks like cronyism.

  2. Joseph-Mary says:

    Ah, tales of vindictiveness, retribution, calumny, detractions, and abuse….and not just in “Peyton Place”….

  3. torch621 says:

    This is a disaster waiting to happen. I fear the fallout from this if it comes to pass. Prayers up.

  4. Charivari Rob says:

    I won’t know what to think of it ’til I understand a lot better what sort of cases/decisions are made at that level. Would these be related to actual findings, or just the sanctions/penalties for the findings?

    It seems to me that there can be a very large gap between, say… a procedural, due-process reform that someone might smear as “being soft on child abuse” and actually being soft on child abuse.

    I know I’d like to see a little reform at the local investigative level. If implementing the Dallas protocol errs too far on the side of “caution” (that is to say – too much presumption of credibility of an accusation and too little presumption of innocence of the accused), well… there have been cases of priests removed from active duty, lengthy investigations, completely cleared, and left with “where do I go to get my reputation back?”

  5. bombcar says:

    Let us pray that something may someday be done for Fr Gordon MacRae.

  6. majuscule says:

    I just ventured over to the Fishwrap because they are continually framing almost any news in the context of the abuse crisis and the lack of action taken by the powers-that-be…but no headline about this. (Not that I take much stock in anything they say. I was simply interested to see if they had any sort of opinion.)

  7. Glennonite says:

    What is going on in Rome these days?!

  8. Absit invidia says:

    Is it just me or is this pontiff causing more division than cohesion.

  9. Someone please be the Garrigue says:

    Is this related?

    Although the article is dated 3rd January 2016, it looks as if they mistyped the date. The reference to Marco Tosatti is dated 26th December just past.

  10. frjim4321 says:

    It always seemed as if it should be a juridical process to me; I really never understood why it went to the CDF in the first place. I seem to be hearing more about the apparently “falsely accused.”

  11. Traductora says:

    The problem is that for the press and the world, Francis can do no wrong. They love him and he loves them. He’s brought scads of not only suspected by even known (and removed by BXVI) pederasts into the Vatican? Well, Francis knows best. So tough for the kids.

  12. Prayerful says:

    Pope Francis transferred Bishop Juan Barros from his Chilean Army position to the diocese of Osorno, despite evidence of complicity in the case of Fr Karadima. Cardinal Marx did the usual abuser shuffle, and nothing. The rules on the responsibility of a bishop to curb abusers seem now only be used as a pretext against bishops who are too faithful to Tradition. Otherwise the Pope seems indifferent, where Pope Benedict was strong and active on this matter.

  13. kurtmasur says:

    Well, with almost 4 years of Pope Francis, I am not shocked at such news. However, I do hope that with this type of potential scandal average people wake up and realize for themselves that the “best pope evuuuuh” is not what they had thought….and I do hope that the cardinal electors in the next conclave keep all of this in mind while electing the next pope.

  14. FranzJosf says:

    Several thoughts:

    1. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, since I don’t have enough detailed information, but moving a ‘competency’ from one discastery to another doesn’t necessarily weaken it. This may be a political move against the CDF, not a weakening in policy.

    2. On the other hand, if it is a weakening in policy it will be interesting to see how the left responds. When the child abuse crisis came to the fore, there was, properly, outrage all round. But I think that opportunists on the left used the issue as a cudgel against the hierarchy and institutional Church for unrelated pet projects such as clerical celibacy, lace-loving traditionalists, female ordination (sic), et al. Now that they love the mercy Pope, will their response be the same?

    3. Again, if it is, indeed, a weakening of policy, I won’t be surprised. I can’t explain in this small space, but I see all of this Pope’s dismaying actions and in-actions as somehow related to a statement that he made: “It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.” In my opinion, he seems make decisions not unlike what a leftish humanitarian organization might make; he seems to focus mostly on this world, not the next. I hope that I’m wrong.

  15. Blaise says:

    It seems that Pope Francis really does not understand how this kind of behaviour appears to the secularised West. The presentation of the facts will be another nail in the coffin of “the new evangelization” as this will just make people think “even Pope Francis is hiding this, or letting people get away with child abuse”. The fishwrap article linked to makes Pope Francis seem way behind in understanding how he comes across.

    While people suggest the blessed Pope Emeritus was naive or ineffectual in his dealing with the curia, his actions on child abuse and the way it was reported tell a very different tale.

  16. Pigeon says:

    The fishwrap won’t dare risk tarnishing the image St. Francis the Baby Kisser, will they?

  17. Blaise says:

    I would imagine also that his grace Mgr Charles Scicluna, archbishop of Malta, is glad to be out of dealing with these accusations and cases if the claims in the article in This Week are true.

  18. JARay says:

    I see that one poster above has mentioned LifeSiteNews. There is an even more interesting article written in that blog which is “2016:The year Pope Francis finally showed his hand”. It is written by John-Henry Westen and it list 35 dates throughout the year when Pope Francis did something which undermined Tradition and /or Church teaching. It is a clear document of what he got up to throughout the year. Most enlightening!

  19. Benedict Joseph says:

    Every dog has his day. Maybe one is coming to our pup.

  20. TomW says:

    I seem to recall Francis postulating that Benedict’s resignation might be the start of a practice for aging popes. I like to see Pope Francis honor his implied commitment soon.

  21. Y2Y says:

    “Every dog has his day. Maybe one is coming to our pup.”

    Yep, it is, and sooner than most think. It’s going to be one hell of a ride. Hold on tight.
    Tequila may help, if taken in sufficient quantity.

  22. RJ Sciurus says:

    Divide and conquer. I’m as distressed about the increasing division in the Church, especially nearing the 100th anniversary of Fatima, as I am about these latest revelations.

  23. Moro says:

    In theory, this could be no big deal so long as the guilty are dealt with and dealt with swiftly and severely.

    However, as someone who lived in Boston at some of the high points of the crisis, I realized how truly damaging this is. We know its awful for the victims. Nobody disputes that. But the fall out from the faithful and other fair minded non-Catholics was huge.

    Two years later gay marriage was a reality in Massachusetts. Why? The Church’s credibility in the public eye had been completely destroyed. The Church was far too weak to mount a defense of marriage. I really do believe this is why gay marriage is a reality in America today and why our tax dollars in schools and embassies promote the gay lifestyle that will entrap more victims. Not all gays are abusers, but virtually all the abusers had young men (not children) as victims. Satan knew exactly what he was doing with the sex abuse crisis and he succeeded.

    But is he just getting started? I fear he is. If allowed to fester and get worse without accountability of bishops and priests, even more faithful will leave and you won’t need to worry about the Church’s tax exempt status, because your religious freedom (what’s left of it) will be gone. G.O.N.E gone.

    Far too many in the chanceries and curial offices, they just see dollar figures dropping, but for those of us in the world and for those in the parishes – we are left defenseless and unable to embrace those outside church because our credibility as a Church has been gutted, shredded, and crapped on.

    I pray to God it doesn’t get any worse and you should too. When you do your Epiphany Day penance that you previously hadn’t planned – offer it for the defense of the church and the holiness of all priests because we need it desperately.

  24. Ben's son says:

    Let us pray for our Pope….

  25. MrTipsNZ says:

    As if the CDF issue alone wasn’t bad enough, John-Henry Westen has compiled an interesting and disturbing list of 2016 according to Pope Francis.

    Batten the hatches and hold dem beads….a’wars a comin’…..

  26. mithrandirmonk says:

    Obviously, I do not know Pope Francis’ motives. However, I can say that I know personally the case of a man who was laicized under the current system under incredibly dubious claims (to the point of stating the opposite of public reports and civil investigations). The entire procedure ran like a star chamber that predetermined matters based upon the superior’s claims against him. I think you can read the relevant canons and question the administrative details process’s legitimacy. There is A LOT of opennesss in the current system for allowing manipulation-all with a bit of haziness regarding legitimate legal due process. No process is perfect, but a legal process is much more preferable to an administrative star chamber.

  27. Fr. Pius, OP says:

    These are mostly administrative cases, so processing them through CDF should be fine. The reason it is a problem moving them back to Clergy/Rota is that it takes time to set up processes. It took quite a while for CDF to gear up. To tear that all down, and then restart in Clergy/Rota will not happen over night. Nothing in Rome happens that quickly. You’re talking about another severe disruption in the process for handling abuse cases, slowing everything down to a crawl. Again. This would be a terrible idea. Maybe something to consider several years from now, but at the current time it would be overly disruptive. And for what gain?

  28. Gerard Plourde says:

    I seem to remember that moving abuse cases to the CDF was done at the beginning of the crisis late in the Papacy of St. John Paul because of the perceived ineffectiveness of the Congregation for the Clergy. Much has changed at the Vatican in the almost two decades. It is possible that the Congregation for the Clergy as now constituted could resume the function.

  29. CrimsonCatholic says:

    “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.”

    Do we have proof of this? If so, where are the numbers and the names of the priest that have been defrocked for child abuse?

    [I’m pretty sure that the statement, above, is accurate.]

  30. CharlesG says:

    Wasn’t Cardinal O’Malley put in harge of this issue in the Council of Cardinals? I didn’t see his name mentioned, although I may have missed it.

  31. Joe in Canada says:

    Pope Francis, as a Jesuit, no doubt intends things to be interpreted by the examples he gives. “Zero tolerance” can include bringing Cardinal Daneels to the Synod.

Comments are closed.