Cdl. Müller says Pope Francis revoked penalties on abusive priests at the request of cardinals
Cdl. Müller's new book contains revelations about a possible papal hamstringing of the CDF, in order to prevent convicted priests from being laicized.
VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — The former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Cardinal Gerhard Müller, has highlighted a culture of non-action in the Vatican when it comes to Italian priests condemned by the CDF of sexual crimes.
The cardinal’s comments come as part of his recently released book-length interview with Il Messaggero‘s Vatican correspondent, Franca Giansoldati. Entitled “In Buona fede,” the book covers topic such as Müller’s surprise dismissal from the CDF; the Church and sex abuse; the question of liturgy; Pope Benedict’s resignation; Pope Francis’ Papacy; along with an appraisal of modern philosophies and the Vatican’s secretive deal with China.
While numerous publications are billing the book as an attack by Müller on Francis, the German cardinal does not explicitly condemn the Argentine Pontiff. Instead, he shies away from speaking of a papal “’dictatorship,’ as has been done in some books rather critical of Pope Francis,” but adds that “one cannot be silent about the effects that certain orientations produce.”
“How could I have kept silent?,” he asked rhetorically. “I have never acted disloyally toward Pope Francis, and God is my witness.”
Inzoli case and Italian nepotism
Of particular note – in light of recent, high-profile cases – are the details which Müller presents surrounding the handling of priests convicted of sex abuse.
Müller used the now notorious case of Father Mauro Inzoli to highlight what he portrayed as a system of preferential treatment for Italian priests who were accused, and then convicted by the CDF of having carried out sexual crimes.
Dubbed “Don Mercedes” for his love of flashy cars and high living, Inzoli was accused of molesting boys, including in the confessional. The CDF and Insole’s ordinary, then Bishop Oscar Cantoni, concluded during a 2011 investigation into Inzoli that there was “the necessary moral certainty” to find him guilty of abuse.
While head of the CDF, Müller reportedly wrote that there were up to 20 different allegations of abuse committed by Inzoli against both male and female minors. As a result of its investigation, the CDF ordered Cantoni to remove Inzoli from the clerical state.
READ: Pope Francis says he ‘never’ pardoned sex abusers. Has he forgotten Fr. Mauro Inzoli?
However, Pope Francis then overturned the CDF’s ruling in 2014, allowing Inzoli to return to the priesthood. As LifeSiteNews has reported, this decision was based on lobbying on Inzoli’s behalf by influential friends in the curia, namely Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio and Monsignor Vito Pinto. Müller warned Francis not to reinstate Inzoli – a warning which later led to his removal as prefect of the CDF at the hands of the Pope, according to a Vatican source in 2018.
Müller’s claim of Italian clerical corruption
Summarizing this case, Müller confirmed that there was indeed a cardinal who successfully lobbied the Pope on Inzoli’s behalf.
“The Vatican tribunal started a trial on him at the end of which it was decided to reduce him to the lay state because he was found guilty of crimes,” said Müller, thus affirming previous reports on the matter. The German cardinal continued:
Unfortunately, however, there was a curia cardinal who went knocking at Santa Marta, asking for clemency. Faced with this interventionism, the Pope was convinced and chose to modify the sentence by adjusting the punishment for Inzoli, stipulating that he remain a priest but with a ban on wearing the priestly habit or clergyman in public and without presenting himself to communities as consecrated.
Here Müller stated that the Inzoli case was “just one example, but I recall that there were several cardinals who reacted and showed strong opposition in the face of judgments reducing clerics guilty of abuse to the lay state.
Such cardinals “have lobbied to overturn the decisions on the grounds of excessive guarantees, saying that depriving a priest of priestly status is tantamount to condemning him to death,” said Müller.
This argument, he noted, was supported by the fact that Pope Francis made groundbreaking changes to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, declaring that the death penalty “is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
READ: Pope Francis contradicts Catholic teaching on the death penalty yet again
Summarizing the argument which these cardinals made, Müller stated:
And since the death penalty has been removed from the Catechism it would have been an incongruity to execute it in other circumstances. So it happened that for clerics of Polish or American or foreign nationality who were condemned by the tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the reduction of the clerical state was quickly carried out, while for Italian priests it was always such a struggle to enforce the sentence because influential friends were moving behind the scenes, knocking at Santa Marta going to the Pope to ask him to intercede.
And they almost always succeeded in the end.
Did Francis alter CDF to prevent clerics being laicized?
Müller also included a branch of the CDF, instituted by Pope Francis, as part of this wider culture of being illegally lenient to certain clerics.
In 2014, Francis established a special College of Revision as part of the CDF, which was tasked with reviewing certain cases which came before the CDF. This College is comprised of seven members, all appointed by the Pope, who did not have to be members of the CDF.
As Müller stated in his book, the College “can even go so far as to overturn the court’s [CDF’s] ruling and prevent the reduction to the lay state of the cleric.”
According to Müller, he had “complained dozens of times” about the existence of the group, “but many in the Vatican had a very different idea.”
He noted that:
The College for Revision has succeeded in canceling almost always the sentences handed down.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna – who is now the head of this collection – being a rigorous and exceptional man, I hope he can pursue a clear line of justice. However, I wonder: can there ever be an internal college independent of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? The existence of such an administrative body is likely to be divisive.
Müller’s accusation that Italian prelates are lobbying the Pope in order to prevent priests – who are already convicted, by the Church’s own process, of crimes deserving laicization – takes on a new aspect in light of the current case surrounding Father Marko Ivan Rupnik.
Rupnik, a prominent Jesuit who has been based in Rome for some decades, was excommunicated by the CDF for absolving a sexual accomplice in confession – an excommunication Francis is reported to have overturned “within hours.”
READ: Pope reportedly intervened to lift excommunication of sexually active, abusive Jesuit priest
Rupnik is also accused of “psychological abuse and sexual violence” against up to twenty nuns, but the CDF dropped this case against him in October 2022, citing time limitations. According to Messa in Latino, this was also due to Pope Francis’s intervention, something which the Pontiff denied in an interview this week.