Victims of clergy sexual abuse say millions of children remain at risk
Millions of children still at risk while Church fails to deal with the problem, activists say
Victims of clergy sexual abuse urged newly-elected Pope Francis to reform the Catholic Church and declare "zero tolerance" for sex crimes as his first official act.
"St Francis was the greatest reformer in the history of the church, Pope Francis must do the same," the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or Snap, said in a statement.
US-based Snap warned that millions of children remained at risk from paedophile priests because the Church had not yet reversed long-standing policies of covering up reports of sexual abuse by transferring priests to unsuspecting parishes.
Insisting that the Jesuit order from which he hailed had a "troubled" track record on paedophilia, Snap said Francis "has both an enormous opportunity and duty to help prevent heinous assaults against kids by this crucial and relatively secretive segment of the Catholic clergy".
"Very little about this crisis has been exposed in South and Central America. We worry about the safety of children in the church there," the group added.
"For the safety of kids and the healing of victims, we hope he starts by exposing the names of predator priests - current and former, living and deceased - in his home archdiocese."
The sex abuse scandal cast its shadow over the conclave of cardinals that elected Francis after two days of votes.
Snap had called for more than a dozen cardinals they said had covered up abuses or made tactless remarks about the scandals to be left out of the deliberations.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi defended the cardinals and accused Snap and other activists of showing "negative prejudices".
Catholics United spokesman Christopher Hale also acknowledged that when it came to sex abuse in the Church, "apologies are not enough".
"Priests who sexually abuse children have to end up in jail and not in our parishes," he said.
The election of Francis came in the same week that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, its former leader Cardinal Roger Mahony and an ex-priest agreed to pay a total of nearly US$10 million to settle four child sex abuse cases brought against them. It was the latest in a string of such settlements around the world.
Additional reporting by Reuters