(Photo: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)
Survivors of child sexual abuse who have been urging the Roman Catholic Church to start taking real steps to tackle the problem believe that newly elected Pope Francis provides "a glimmer of hope" that things can change for the better.
"Certainly, Francis is a man who loved to teach and was meek and understanding of the plight of the downtrodden and the marginalized in our society," said Mark Crawford, a member of SNAP, a network for survivors of clergy abuse, according to ABC News. "That's why I have this one glimmer of hopeful expectation. But he has to be assertive and aggressive."
But Crawford, 51, remains cautious, knowing any change would not come easy.
"I don't know. It remains to be seen," he said. "That is my sincere hope. There might be some cause to be hopeful, but many [in the church] are part of the old school of thought."
Crawford revealed that he was abused by a Catholic priest when he was 11 years old, something which continued for six years – and when he finally spoke out about the crime to his New Jersey bishop, the abuser received a promotion to personal secretary to the diocese's archbishop.
These are the kind of stories that have put a dark stain on the Catholic Church, and many have said that its leadership sometimes tries to protect and hide abusers instead of punishing them, in order to avoid further shame. SNAP has been working for decades to expose such cover-ups.
SNAP and its supporters were unhappy with Pope Benedict XVI and said that the Catholic Church should have done more to tackle the problem during his time. Last week, as the world's top cardinals were arriving in Rome to prepare for the conclave, the group issued a list of 12 pontiff candidates with the worst history when it comes to responding to sexual abuse – Pope Francis was not one of them.
Other SNAP members have also said that they remain somewhat hopeful that Pope Francis can inspire positive change within the church. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who served as the cardinal of Buenos Aries, Argentina, before his election as pope, chose the name of St. Francis of Assisi, an early church reformer beloved by many.
"St. Francis was the greatest reformer in the history of the church. Pope Francis must do the same," said Peter Isely, another SNAP member and survivor of abuse. "Pope Francis must, as his very first act, decree the zero tolerance of sexual abuse of children by priests."
The Associated Press noted that not much is known about any direct experience Pope Francis has had dealing with sex abuse cases. But when scandals broke out he did create stricter requirements for people becoming priests, and now 60 percent of candidates are eliminated.
"The pope has an opportunity to bring about true justice, change, and transformation in a church torn from scandal and the rape of children," said Billy Kirchen, who is one of 550 plaintiffs petitioning for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to release confidential files regarding abuse claims. "Real change has to come from the pope."