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COMO, Italy (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis has elevated to the cardinalate a bishop who protected a priest accused of sexually abusing at least 23 minors.
Oscar Cantoni, bishop of Como, was the only Italian bishop to be made a cardinal during the consistory in August, despite his attempt to aid homopredator priest Fr. Mauro Inzoli, who was sentenced to a prison term of four years and nine months for his crimes.
A top Vatican insider told Church Militant that Pope Francis was not only aware of the cover-up — since the news was extensively reported in the Italian media — but the pontiff personally softened the sanction imposed by Pope Benedict XVI on Fr. Inzoli.
While Benedict had ordered Fr. Inzoli to be laicized, Francis reduced the sentence to a "pena medicinale perpetua" (perpetual therapeutic penalty) in 2014, inviting the priest to lead a "life of prayer and humble restraint as signs of conversion and penance."
Francis cushioned Inzoli's punishment at the behest of Cdl. Francesco Coccopalmerio, who was caught by Vatican gendarmerie at a drug-fueled homosexual orgy in an apartment at the Palazzo del Sant'Uffizio (Palace of the Holy Office), the insider told Church Militant.
It was Bp. Cantoni who asked Cdl. Coccopalmerio, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, to intervene with Pope Francis for clemency on behalf of his former priest Fr. Inzoli, the source added.
In fact, Coccopalmerio was the only cardinal to defend the homopredator priest at the plenary meeting of the CDF and to vote against condemning him, a source in the CDF told Church Militant.
The CDF meeting took place on May 29, 2013, with 14 members voting to punish Inzoli, one abstaining, and one voting in his favor. The favorable vote was from Coccopalmerio. The CDF meeting and ballot were in response to Inzoli's appeal on Jan. 30, 2013.
Pope Francis' newly-created cardinal, Oscar Cantoni, was bishop of Crema when multiple complaints were made against his diocesan priest Fr. Inzoli as early as 2010.
Former CDF prefect, Cdl. Gerhard Müller, noted there were complaints from "11 male minors, 2 female minors" and "indications of possible abuse of 7 other minors," as quoted in Italian media.
The victims were between the ages of 12–16, and the abuse took place from 2004–2008, sometimes even in the confessional. Inzoli was rector of the William Shakespeare Linguistic High School and parish priest of Holy Trinity Church in Crema.
The cleric, who confessed to his crimes, also sexually abused the victims in his office, where he held spiritual exercises with his pupils, and in resorts where he took children for summer holidays.
Inzoli was also director of Communion and Liberation, an international Catholic youth movement that began in Italy, when he abused his victims.
Even after the CDF charged Cantoni on July 21, 2011, "with the task of carrying out an administrative penal process pursuant to canon 1720," the bishop of Crema suspended Fr. Inzoli for only five years in his decree on Aug. 25, 2012.
The penalty compelled the guilty priest to live outside the diocese of Crema, abstain from pastoral duties and celebrate Holy Mass only in private.
Cantoni even addressed the faithful of Crema, saying, "The purpose of the ecclesial spirit is always to accompany Her children maternally, even when they make a mistake, rather than to make judgments of condemnation prevail."
On Nov. 9, 2012, the CDF instructed Cantoni to dismiss Inzoli from the clerical state and not impose mere temporal penalties "given the gravity, the diuturnity and the continuity of the abuses perpetrated."
Only then did Cantoni act with severity against the pedophile cleric. Inzoli immediately appealed to the CDF, and Cantoni secured a favorable vote from Cdl. Coccopalmerio at the decisive meeting.
Significantly, Pope Francis himself rebuffed the CDF's 2013 sentence and sent a mandate to the CDF on June 6, 2014, asking the congregation to issue a decree imposing only temporal penalties as requested by Bp. Cantoni.
"We were amazed when we received the request from the pope to issue decree 665/2010. Evidently, someone had privileged access to Santa Marta [the current papal residence]," one of the fourteen voters in the CDF told Italian media outlet Silere non possum.
In May 2017, Pope Francis finally laicized Inzoli (as initially ordered by Pope Benedict XVI) only after the mother of one of the male victims committed suicide.
Francis was also forced to reconsider his lenient sentence after the priest continued to sexually abuse minors during the grace period granted to him. The testimonies of fresh abuse cases were recorded by the new bishop of Crema, Daniele Gianotti, and sent to the Vatican.
The CDF source told Church Militant that Cdl. Cantoni was also responsible for the cover-up of the sexual abuse perpetrated on underage boys at the Vatican's St. Pius X Minor Seminary.
"The pre-seminary falls under the purview of the Como diocese, and Cdl. Coccopalmerio intervened to protect Cantoni and ensured that the judicial vicar of Como who carried out the investigations was dismissed from his post and sent to Switzerland," the source said.
Despite the pope's insistence on clergy living a simple lifestyle, Francis also turned a blind eye to the ostentatious lifestyle of Inzoli, who came to be nicknamed "Fr. Mercedes" for the purchase of a luxury sports car.
During the trial, the court heard how the priest misused passages from the Old Testament with his victims in an attempt to justify his sexual assault. Inzoli cited a passage from Genesis 24:2–9 where Abraham asks his chief servant to "place his hand under his thigh" and swear an oath.
The "thigh" is a biblical euphemism for testicles, signifying Abraham's descendants and indicating the grave nature of the oath.
In addition to his prison term, the court of Cremona also ordered the homopredator priest to pay five victims 25,000 euros each.
Church Militant earlier reported on Francis' elevation of San Diego's bishop, Robert McElroy, to the cardinalate, and his elevation of the archbishop of Goa, Filipe Neri Ferrão, to the college of cardinals.
While Ferrão has been mired in multiple land scandals involving church property and is encouraging religious syncretism in Goa, McElroy knowingly covered up satanic ritual abuse, Church Militant reported.
In 2020, Pope Francis announced the appointment of several leading pro-LGBT bishops as cardinals, including Abp. Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. — identified as a homosexual by priestly-sex abuse expert Richard Sipe.
Francis also named as cardinal the pro-LGBT bishop of Gozo, Mario Grech, and the Italian pro-LGBT former bishop of Albano, Marcello Semeraro.
Commentators are drawing parallels between Francis' appointment of Cantoni and the appointment of his friend Fr. Gustavo Zanchetta to the bishopric of Orán, Argentina, in 2013.
Zanchetta was convicted of sexually abusing seminarians and sentenced to four years and six months in prison. The pope sided with his friend despite numerous complaints from local priests, even after the new bishop was caught with pornographic images of young men on his mobile phone.
After Zanchetta resigned for health reasons in 2017, Francis gave him the top job of overseeing Vatican finances, even though the bishop has been accused of embezzling 1 million pesos ($250,000) given by the provincial government for the restoration of a parish rectory.
The Holy See is refusing to release the results of the canonical investigation into Zanchetta's conduct.