The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) says it hopes that the resignation of Pope Benedict will strengthen the struggle for true accountability within the Catholic Church, and that it intends to press ahead with prosecutions.
The organisation has 12,000 members worldwide, and it claims that Benedict XVI remains personally responsible for widespread abuse within the church, first exposed under John Paul II, because he has chosen to protect its reputation above safeguarding the safety of children and seeking justice for past wrongs.
US lawyers who are currently suing the pontiff and other high-ranking Holy See officials for systematically concealing sexual crimes around the world now say that his resignation may lead to further international prosecutions.
The Center for Constitutional Rights issued a statement on 11 February 2013, confirming that it had filed a case with the International Criminal Court on behalf of SNAP on September 2011, and had provided additional documentation in the case in April 2012. The prosecutor is currently reviewing the evidence for 'crimes against humanity' by the Pope and others.
David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, speaking to Karen McVeigh of the Guardian newspaper, condemned the Pope's "terrible record" on child sex abuse and said he hoped that Benedict would “finally show some courageous leadership on the abuse crisis” in his remaining days in office.
Clohessy declared: “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.”
Meanwhile, the co-founder of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (ISCA) told Henry McDonald in Dublin had a slightly different take, saying that he suspected that Pope Benedict's willingness to help the victims of clerical abuse had been thwarted by ultra-conservative elements in the Vatican.
He said: "In March 2010 when the Pope issued his pastoral letter to the people of Ireland we welcomed it, because of the sincerity of the words in that letter from the pope in the name of the church. He said he was 'truly sorry' and accepted that our 'dignity had been violated'. So we went on to meet the contact group of bishops in Ireland thinking that this would be a new era.
"But what we got instead were pastoral platitudes and special Masses offered up. Yet what was missing was a practical response for the victims on earth, not the afterlife. There are people out there with enormous problems caused by what happened in childhood. Meanwhile there were ultra-rightwing elements in Rome who resisted change that he wanted to bring about; he lost that power struggle in the Vatican and so did not fulfil what he wanted to do in his pastoral letter. I would go as far as to say he faced obstruction, high up, [from people] who were opposed to any reforms or any open acknowledgement of their wrongdoings."
The statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights declared: "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.
"In this case, all roads really do lead to Rome. Not only does Pope Benedict XVI bear responsibility in his official capacity for the church-wide policy of systematic and widespread concealment and enabling of the crimes, but he bears individual responsibility in a number of cases in which he ensured that perpetrators would be shielded and protected and left in place to assault more victims.
"The International Criminal Court does not recognise any of the traditional immunities to prosecution for crimes against humanity: whether he is in office or not makes no difference, but it may lower the bar of resistance enough for justice to be served. We share SNAP’s goal of preventing even one more child from being raped or sexually assaulted by a priest, first and foremost, and then further violated by a Church that consistently turns its back on victims and knowingly exposes its congregation to risk of rape and sexual violence," the statement concluded.
SNAP (www.snapnetwork.org) is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. It has existed for 23 years and has members who were molested by religious figures of a whole range of denominations, not just the Catholic Church.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (http://ccrjustice.org/) is "dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the Southern states of the USA, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organisation "committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change".
* Will Cardinal Martini's '200 years out of date' comments echo in the Conclave?, by Simon Barrow - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17976
* Benedict XVI leaves a mixed legacy on ecumenical dialogue, by Stephen Brown - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17981