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 a 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 AP has learned. The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called for the priest to be defrocked. Francis overruled them and sentenced Inzoli to a lifetime of penance and prayer and removal from public ministry.
In some cases, priests or high-ranking friends appealed to Francis for clemency by citing the pope's own words about mercy in their petitions, a church official said. "With all this emphasis on mercy...he is creating the environment for such initiatives," the church official said, adding that clemency petitions were rarely granted by Pope Benedict XVI, who launched a tough crackdown during his 2005-2013 papacy and defrocked some 800 priests who raped and molested children. At the same time, Francis also ordered three longtime staffers at the congregation dismissed, two of whom worked for the discipline section that handles sex abuse cases, lawyers and the church official said. (Read more Pope Francis stories.)