Pope dismisses car­di­nal from of­fice on sex abuse

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - NICOLE WIN­FIELD

VAT­I­CAN CITY — Pope Fran­cis sacked the head of the Vat­i­can of­fice that han­dles sex abuse cases Satur­day, just days af­ter he re­leased an­other top Vat­i­can car­di­nal to re­turn home to stand trial over al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault.

Fran­cis de­clined to re­new the man­date of Ger­man Car­di­nal Ger­hard Mueller as pre­fect of the Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith, the Vat­i­can of­fice that pro­cesses and eval­u­ates all cases of priests ac­cused of rap­ing or mo­lest­ing mi­nors.

Fran­cis named Mueller’s deputy, Mon­signor Luis Ladaria Fer­rer, a Span­ish Je­suit, to run the pow­er­ful of­fice in­stead.

Dur­ing Mueller’s fiveyear term, the con­gre­ga­tion amassed a 2,000-case back­log and came un­der blis­ter­ing crit­i­cism from Ir­ish abuse sur­vivor Marie Collins, who had been tapped by Fran­cis in 2014 to ad­vise the church on car­ing for abuse vic­tims and pro­tect­ing chil­dren from pe­dophile priests.

Collins re­signed from the pa­pal com­mis­sion in March, cit­ing the “un­ac­cept­able” level of re­sis­tance from Mueller’s of­fice to heed­ing the com­mis­sion’s pro­pos­als.

In May, Fran­cis said her crit­i­cism of the slow pace in pro­cess­ing abuse cases was jus­ti­fied and an­nounced he was adding more staff to han­dle the over­load. Ear­lier this year he also named Car­di­nal Sean O’Mal­ley as a mem­ber of the con­gre­ga­tion in hopes of en­sur­ing bet­ter co­op­er­a­tion.

Mueller’s ouster was the sec­ond ma­jor Vat­i­can shakeup last week.

On Thurs­day, Fran­cis granted an­other Vat­i­can hard-liner, Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell, a leave of ab­sence to re­turn to his na­tive Aus­tralia to face trial on mul­ti­ple charges of sex­ual as­sault stem­ming from years ago.

Pell has de­nied the charges. Still, Fran­cis has come un­der crit­i­cism for hav­ing named him to the pow­er­ful po­si­tion of the Vat­i­can’s money czar in 2014, given that ac­cu­sa­tions of wrong­do­ing had dogged him even then. Pell has been widely de­nounced at home for mis­han­dling abuse cases while he was a bishop and for hav­ing treated vic­tims harshly in seek­ing to pro­tect the church from abuse-re­lated civil lit­i­ga­tion.

“In the church’s cur­rent emer­gency, with its third-rank­ing prelate soon to ap­pear in an Aus­tralian court on child abuse charges, Pope Fran­cis needs a [Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith] pre­fect who will work with Car­di­nal Sean O’Mal­ley on the church’s abuse cri­sis, not against him,” said Ter­ence McKier­nan of Bish­opAc­count­abil­ity.org, an on­line re­source of abuse doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Mueller and Pell were the two most pow­er­ful car­di­nals in the Vat­i­can af­ter the Vat­i­can sec­re­tary of state, Car­di­nal Pietro Parolin. Their ab­sences, cou­pled with Fran­cis’ ear­lier de­mo­tion of arch-con­ser­va­tive Car­di­nal Ray­mond Burke as the Vat­i­can’s chief jus­tice, will likely cre­ate a power vac­uum for the con­ser­va­tive wing in the Holy See hi­er­ar­chy.

The week’s events could be seen as an at­tempt by Fran­cis to make good on his “zero tol­er­ance” pledge for abuse.

Take for ex­am­ple the case of the Rev. Mauro In­zoli, a well­known Ital­ian priest de­frocked by the Vat­i­can in 2012 for hav­ing abused chil­dren as young as 12. He had his sen­tence re­duced on ap­peal to a life­time of penance and prayer in 2014 af­ter what his bishop said was a show of mercy from the pope.

But in Novem­ber, an Ital­ian judge con­victed In­zoli of abus­ing five chil­dren ages 12-16 and sen­tenced him to four years, nine months in prison. The Vat­i­can opened a new church trial against him, and his bishop an­nounced last week that he had been defini­tively de­frocked.

Aside from the sex abuse case back­log, Fran­cis and Mueller had sparred over Fran­cis’ di­vi­sive 2016 doc­u­ment on fam­ily life, in which the pope of­fered a cau­tious open­ing to let­ting di­vorced and civilly re­mar­ried Catholics re­ceive Com­mu­nion.

Church teach­ing holds that un­less th­ese Catholics re­ceive an an­nul­ment, or a church de­cree that their first mar­riage was in­valid, they are com­mit­ting adul­tery and can­not re­ceive Com­mu­nion un­less they ab­stain from sex.

Four con­ser­va­tive car­di­nals have at­tacked the pope’s doc­u­ment as vague and con­fus­ing and pub­licly re­quested that Fran­cis clar­ify it. Mueller didn’t join their cam­paign but made it clear that he dis­agrees with Fran­cis’ sug­ges­tion that any such de­ci­sions could be ar­rived at in the realm of per­sonal dis­cern­ment.

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