US clergy sex victims want change from Pope Francis

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The election of a new pope could help heal the wounds left by a Roman Catholic sex abuse crisis that has savaged the church's reputation worldwide. For alleged victims, much depends on whether Pope Francis disciplines the priests and the hierarchy that protected them.

Some hope the Jesuit pontiff's well-known humility and social benevolence will lead to an era of greater transparency and renewed faith. A greater number, however, are calling on the new Roman Catholic leader to defrock US cardinals who covered up for pedophile priests, formally apologise and order the release of all confidential church files from every diocese.

Adding to their distrust are several multimillion dollar settlements the Jesuits paid out in recent years, including US $166 million (S$207 million) to more than 450 Native Alaskan and Native American abuse victims in 2011 for molestation at Jesuit-run schools across the Pacific Northwest. The settlement bankrupted the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus.

It's unclear how much direct experience Pope Francis, an Argentine cardinal, has had dealing with sexually abusive clergy in Latin America, where the scope of the abuse scandal has been more muted. When the scandal broke, however, he made it harder for people to become priests and now 60 per cent are eliminated, said his authorised biographer, Sergio Rubin.

In contrast, his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI was in charge of the Vatican office that handled clergy abuse cases before becoming pope and was a guiding force behind several sex abuse policies enacted under Pope John Paul II.

Those policies haven't been enough for most victims, who say they will scrutinise the new pope and his actions.

Elsie Boudreau, a Yup'ik Eskimo, was abused for nine years by a Jesuit priest in a tiny village in northern Alaska.

She settled her case in 2005 and now works as a social worker helping 300 other sex abuse victims in Alaska. She has since learned that Vatican officials had been aware of her alleged abuser since before she was born, she said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.