VICTIMS of sexual abuse by Catholic priests want new Pope Francis to commit to handing over secret Vatican files about child sex abuse in Australia.
The victims and advocacy groups say the Pope must show leadership and make the controversial issue his top priority.
But some victims and their families fear nothing will change under the new pontiff.
The reign of Pope Benedict’s reign was riven by scandals and the new pope will face immediate challenges – chiefly stamping his authority on the Vatican machinery and trying to coax back a Catholic flock that is deserting churches across the West.
The scandal of hushed-up sexual abuse of children by pedophile priests going back decades also cast its shadow over the conclave.
Nicky Davis, of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the Catholic Church had never voluntarily handed over incriminating documents or cooperated with law enforcement or official inquiries into the issue.
“One of the first actions of the new Pope should be to open all the secret Vatican files relating to child sexual abuse in Australia and hand them to Australia’s royal commission,” she said.
Ms Davis said the Pope should also revoke all church laws and procedures requiring secrecy and the protection of reputations to override child safety.
Helen Last, the director of victims advocacy group In Good Faith, says Pope Francis must release funds to help victims.
“The church needs to work on justice and become a model litigant where it allows cases to go forward in the civil courts and supports inquiries that are under way around the world, particularly in Australia,” she said.
Broken Rites president Chris McIsaac wants Pope Francis to change the church’s legal identity to enable victims to sue it, and to admit the church has covered up sexual abuse.
However, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, the senior NSW police officer who helped spark Australia’s royal commission into the issue, says the Pope must first overcome powerful factions within the Vatican.
Anthony Foster, whose two daughters were raped by Melbourne priest Kevin O’Donnell while they were in primary school, said nothing would change with a new Pope.
“They haven’t listened at all. I expect nothing more out of this particular Pope than out of the last one,” he said.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said Pope Francis must tackle the issue.
“That he is a cleanskin I think is certain. The cardinals wouldn’t have even considered a man who wasn’t a cleanskin in that field,” he said.
“How he will move to address the problem I don’t know, but that he will have to move is certain.”
The US-based victims’ group, SNAP, urged Pope Francis to declare “zero tolerance” for sex crimes.
The group noted that the Jesuit order from which he hails has a “troubled” track record on paedophilia, and said: “St Francis was the greatest reformer in the history of the Church, Pope Francis must do the same.”