Victims of the child sex abuse crisis that has engulfed the Catholic church during Pope Benedict's tenure welcomed his unexpected resignation on Monday, amid speculation over what prompted his departure.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap), an organisation of 12,000 members worldwide, claim Benedict is personally responsible for widespread abuse within the church because he chose to protect its reputation over the safety of children. US lawyers who are currently suing the pontiff and other high-ranking Holy See officials for systematically concealing sexual crimes around the world, said his resignation may lead to more international prosecutions.
David Clohessy, executive director of Snap, condemned the pope's "terrible record" on child sex abuse and said he hoped he would "finally show some courageous leadership on the abuse crisis" in his remaining days.
Clohessy told the Guardian: "Before he became pope his predecessor put him in charge of the abuse crisis. He has read thousands of pages of reports of the abuse cases from across the world. He knows more about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups than anyone else in the church yet he has done precious little to protect children."
He said a big question for the pope's successor is "what he will do in a very tangible way to safeguard children, deter cover-ups, punish enablers and chart a new course. What matters is not whether a statement is unprecedented but whether an action is affected."
Clohessy cited the example of 30 US bishops who have posted the names of predator priests on their diocese websites. He said that a new pontiff should require bishops to do that and to work to reform secular laws governing abuse "so that predators from every walk of life faces justice".
Cardinal Sean O Malley, of Boston, one of five cardinals who lead the US archdiocese, has published a list of 159 priests and deacons accused of abusing children, on the Boston archdiocese website.
Before he was pope, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the organisation responsible for dealing with abuse cases.
The Vatican has cited nonspecific health concerns as the reason for Benedict's resignation, the first in the church in almost 600 years, but the unexpected and sudden nature of the announcement has prompted widespread speculation over the reasons.
Bill McMurry, a lawyer from Kentucky who has sued the Vatican for sexual abuse allegations going back as far as 1928, said: "The world is stunned. We don't see in the history of the papal world a pope stand down. It makes you wonder what's going on."
McMurry said he personally holds Benedict responsible for "decades" of cover-up of the sex abuse scandal, during which time bishops were instructed to send paedophile priests from one district to another.
"It is a good day when a bad pope or a bad leader of your religion steps aside," he said.
McMurry said he believed Benedict was appointed to the papacy in part because he had kept the sex abuse scandal at bay to protect the reputation of the church.
"We have seen documentations. We know that this is the role that Benedict played, and he did a terrific job of containing a scandal until it could be contained no more and it exploded."
"It is hard for me to accept that Benedict would step down. Unless there was a potential scandal that we will never know about that was bargained away. There's a lot of skull-duggery here. It just doesn't add up" he said.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed a case against the pope last year at the International Criminal Court on behalf of Snap, said his departure would make international prosecution easier, both in its case at the ICC and other, potential prosecutions, because it will remove the immunity given to him as a head of state.
In a statement, the CRR said: "This pope is responsible for rape and other sexual violence around the world, both through his exercise of superior responsibility and through his direct involvement in the cover up of specific crimes. Tens of thousands of victims, most of them children, continue to suffer because he has placed the reputation of the church above the safety of its members. His resignation will make international prosecution easier for national systems of justice that still grant immunity to current heads of state."
Pam Spees, an attorney for CCR, said that since it had filed the suit in 2011, Snap has been contacted by survivors from 65 countries.
"We have seen a welling up of survivors coming together in different countries to demand accountability," said Spees. "With respect to ICC, there was never any legal hurdles because he was head of state. But there were plenty of political hurdles to doing that. The fact that he is not any more should remove those political hurdles. He could also be more exposed to civil suits and criminal investigations at a national level."
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