Pope Francis has admitted that he made an error early in his papacy in being too lenient with a priest who had sexually abused young people.
The Pope made the admission last week during a meeting with the child protection advisory commission he set up in 2014.
It was his first meeting with the group.
Francis was referring to the case of Mauro Inzoli, an Italian priest whom Benedict XVI laicised and Francis returned to the priestly state. Inzoli was later convicted of abusing five boys.
The Pope said: “I was new [in the papacy], I did not understand these things well and chose the more benevolent of the two sentences, but after two years the priest had a relapse. I learned from this.”
He said he would never pardon any priest proven to be guilty of abuse. “Why? Simply because the person who does this [sexually abuses minors] is sick. It is a sickness.”
Setting aside his prepared text to speak informally, the Pope said the Church had been “late” in facing and, therefore, properly addressing the sin of sexual abuse by its members. Perhaps, he said, the old practice of moving people from one place to another and not fully facing the problem “lulled consciences to sleep”.
But, he said, “prophets in the Church”, including Cardinal Seán O’Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, had, with the help of God, come forward to shine a light on the problem.
He said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would need more staff to clear a backlog of cases. He also said he would like to add more diocesan bishops to the panel that deals with appeals filed by accused clergy. Most of its members were canon lawyers, he said, and he wanted to add members who have had to deal with abuse in their dioceses.
He also said that proof that an ordained minister had abused a minor “is sufficient [reason] to receive no recourse” for an appeal. “If there is proof, end of story,” the Pope said; the sentence was “definitive”.
Call to rethink ‘pontifical secret’
Members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors have proposed reducing confidentiality in abuse cases.
Vatican experts argue that the invocation of the “pontifical secret” in such cases protects the dignity of all involved. But papal advisers called for a review of the rule, fearing it may obstruct civil authorities.
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