Sex-abuse victims group names "least worst" candidates for pope

Victims outreach director Barbara Dorris and executive director David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a U.S.-based international support group, pose with pictures of them as children before a press conference Feb. 26, 2013, at a hotel in Rome. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Since Pope Benedict XVI resigned, there have been calls for many cardinals to be pulled from consideration for the pope's empty seat because of allegations stemming from the Roman Catholic Church's sex abuse and cover-up scandals.

Benedict's yet-to-be-named successor has abuse victims and their advocates questioning who, if anyone, is best fit to lead the church in the right direction.

Shortly after singling out a "dirty dozen" -- cardinals they believe to be the worst choices to succeed Benedict -- a victims' advocacy group Thursday gave three recommendations they feel are the "least worst" to be pope.

Barbara Doris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the candidates are "not a ringing endorsement," but they tried to select those who have the most realistic chance of becoming pope.

"The common link amongst these three men is their courage," Doris said at a press conference. "They've done things that few, if any, bishops or cardinals have tried. They've tried to think outside the box, and at times, they've been bluntly honest about the failings of other church members."

Their three recommendations are: Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (Philippines); Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn (Austria); and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (Ireland).

Of those names, Vatican magazine editor and CBS News contributor Delia Gallagher had identified Shoenborn and Tagle as cardinals that have a legitimate chance to be chosen in the upcoming conclave.

SNAP executive director David Clohessy said the group drew its conclusion about these most "promising candidates" from their words in response to the sex abuse crisis as well as their actions according to media accounts, legal filings and victims' experiences.

Tagle, at 55, is one of the youngest contenders. Gallager noted that he has "made a name for himself as a friendly, media-savvy, humble yet gifted public speaker" and that his youth could make him the fresh face the church needs.

Tagle has been applauded for aggressively addressing the church's cover-up of abuse scandals. In a speech last year (PDF), he criticized the institution's "culture of shame" that contributes to the "relative 'silence' with which the victims and Asian Catholics face the scandal." An abuse victim with SNAP also told the organization that Tagle was helpful in starting the process of defrocking a Filipino cleric who abused her.

Shoenborn has also publicly criticized how the church handled sex-abuse cases under Pope John Paul II, specifically Cardinal Angelo Sodano for allegedly obstructing an investigation into Shoenborn's predecessor, Cardinal Herman Groer. Shoenborn was scolded by the pope in June 2010 for his remarks; the Vatican sent out a press release that said the Austrian was gently reminded that making accusations against a cardinal is a responsibility that "falls exclusively to the Pope."

The Austrian cardinal has been criticized, however, for not strongly enough denouncing how authorities handled an investigation into tons of child pornography found at a seminary in 2004. Bishop Kurt Krenn of the Catholic diocese of St. Poelten had called the incident a "childish prank," and SNAP said it wished that Shoenborn would have denounced him for not taking the investigation seriously enough.

Archbishops in modern times aren't usually elected pope, and SNAP acknowledges Martin is a longshot. But like the other two recommendations, he has been an outspoken critic of the church's handling of the sex abuse scandal. Last year, he described toCBS' Bob Simon of "60 Minutes" how he handed more than 65,000 documents to the Irish government that revealed widespread abuse in the Irish diocese.

"There's a real danger today of people saying, 'The child abuse scandal is over. Let's bury it. Let's move on,'" he told Simon. "It isn't over. Child protection and the protection of children is something that will go on for, you know, the rest of our lives and into the future. Because the problems are there."

In response to SNAP's report of the "dirty dozen," Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said it is not up to advocacy groups to determine "who should participate or not in the conclave."

Becky Ianni, a victim and director of SNAP's Virginia and Washington, D.C., branches, holds out little hope about the outcome of the conclave.

"Is getting a new pope really gonna make a new difference?" Ianni told CBSNews.com's Joshua Norman Wednesday. "The last two didn't. I don't have a lot of hope that a new pope is gonna change things dramatically. Whatever pope they pick, he has to take decisive action in the first few weeks for victims to know something's gonna change. Benedict was great for apologizing, but nothing changed."

  • Sara Dover On Twitter»

    Sara Dover is an associate news editor for CBSNews.com

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