Just like his predecessor, Francis refuses to wait for the verdict of the Italian courts, taking action into his own hands by laicizing a priest accused of having sexually abused four minors.
In covering the problem of clerical sexual abuse, Aleteia has had the opportunity to highlight on the one hand the Church’s commitment to the fight against child abuse, and on the other the obstinacy of certain international bodies in attacking the Holy See, all the while denying the evidence of improvements in terms of increased transparency and clear measures toward combatting the phenomenon. The zero-tolerance stance that began under Benedict XVI (who, between 2011 and 2012, laicized over 400 priests accused of pedophilia) and continues under Francis is made evident in what has transpired within the past few weeks, but which was made public only a few days ago: the Holy See has laicized a priest accused of pedophilia without waiting for the final judgment of the Italian legal system.
This is the case of Don Marco Mangiacasale, a priest of the Diocese of Como who has been convicted in the first two levels of his criminal trial to three years, five months and twenty days in jail for sexually abusing four underage girls. In a ruling signed on 13 December by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and future cardinal, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the former pastor and later treasurer of the parish of San Giuliano was reduced to the lay state (Fatto Quotidiano, 12 February).
La Repubblica reports that a trusted expert in Vatican affairs was unfazed by this sudden decision by Pope Francis: “This is the ‘hangman’ policy first established by Cardinal Ratzinger when he headed the Holy Office. First as Prefect and later as Pope, Benedict XVI introduced hardline legislation to address matters of abuse, rather than attempt to cover them up. Mangiacasale’s judgment was read by Monsignor Coletti on 30 January to the victims’ families. It stated: “Don Marco Mangiacasale has been reduced to the lay state. He can no longer serve as an educator in Catholic schools nor participate in any way in groups or organizations where young people may be present” (11 February).
Even Luigi Accattoli, who for years has been the Vatican correspondent for Corriere della Sera, believes that there has been something of a breakthrough in the Vatican, saying: “Gone is the era of clandestine procedures; for some time now, the Vatican has been opening the way for fast-track procedures. It is now time to forget the notion of a Church that sifts through the evidence and hides the truth.”
The journalist explains to the Como edition of Corriere that “the old system provided that, prior the three degrees of judgment and the subsequent start of the canonical process, there was a policy of non-persecution and a presumption of innocence. At times, this was the result of connivance, but overall, there were safety procedures in place within the system. But the breakthrough came with Pope Benedict, under whom we saw an accelerated process of reduction to the lay state. Under Benedict, it became clear that there is no need to wait for the three judgments of the Italian courts when there is a ‘moral certainty’ that the priest is responsible and guilty, even without a final judgment. This applies not only to pedophilia, but also for other cases’ (13 February).