The quality of mercy

Say you have a thieving banker or a fraudulent investment wizard. Should they be punished or should they be treated with mercy?

There are arguments either way, but I think few would argue that they should go right on being bankers or investment wizards. Having to find another line of work seems quite compatible with mercy.

But Pope Frankie doesn’t see it that way.

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.

One case has come back to haunt him: An Italian priest who received the pope’s clemency was later convicted by an Italian criminal court for his sex crimes against children as young as 12. The Rev. Mauro Inzoli is now facing a second church trial after new evidence emerged against him, The Associated Press has learned.

The Inzoli case is one of several in which 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.

And they remained priests, so the Catholic church goes on sheltering priests who have sexually abused children. Defrocking surely is not only punishment; surely it’s also a matter of the church firmly rejecting sexual abuse of children, and withdrawing any kind of tacit endorsement of it via keeping perps in its ranks.

Many canon lawyers and church authorities argue that defrocking pedophiles can put society at greater risk because the church no longer exerts any control over them. They argue that keeping the men in restricted ministry, away from children, at least enables superiors to exert some degree of supervision.

But Collins said the church must also take into account the message that reduced canonical sentences sends to both survivors and abusers.

“While mercy is important, justice for all parties is equally important,” Collins said in an email. “If there is seen to be any weakness about proper penalties, then it might well send the wrong message to those who would abuse.”

Especially given the church’s long and squalid history of protecting priests who sexually abused children, not to mention the loathsome record on Irish industrial schools and Magdalene laundries.

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