Only two of the dozen cardinals in the running to become the next Pope are "clean" in terms of their handling of scandals involving sexually abusive priests, a prominent association of victims of clergy sex abuse said on Thursday.
The damning indictment came as it was claimed that there were up to 20 moles inside the Vatican prepared to leak more confidential documents in order to expose corruption, following the example of Pope Benedict XVI’s butler, who was jailed for theft after handing a stash of stolen papers to an Italian journalist.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the vast majority of cardinals are tainted by having ignored cases of predatory priests or by having actively covered them up and impeded efforts by police and prosecutors to bring the offenders to justice.
The only two "papabili" or papal contenders who have a credible record on sex abuse scandals are Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines and Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Austria.
The network of victims named a third member of the Church who had a laudable record – Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin.
But he is not a cardinal, will not take part in the conclave to elect the new Pope and therefore has only a very slim chance of being chosen as the new pontiff.
“I think it’s telling that they had to go outside the College of Cardinals to find a third “clean” candidate,” said John Allen, a Vatican analyst with the US-based National Catholic Reporter.
The survivors network, known by its acronym SNAP, said that Cardinal Tagle was “one of the very few prelates who have spoken clearly about the “culture of shame” that surrounds victims of sex abuse.”
Cardinal Schoenborn “has spoken out several times regarding clergy abuse and cover-ups” since becoming a cardinal in 1998 and had publicly criticised very senior figures in the Church, the group said.
“This is not a ringing endorsement – these three are the least worst papal candidates," said Barbara Dorris, a member of SNAP from the United States who was herself molested as a child by a priest.
"The common link between them is their courage – at times they have been bluntly honest about the failings of the Church. They realise the paedophile priest scandal is far from over.”
A “ticking time bomb” of sex abuse by priests in Asia, Africa and Latin America means that “we have just seen the tip of the iceberg."
On Wednesday the group released a “dirty dozen” of papal candidates who had a particularly poor record of shielding paedophile priests, naming cardinals from the US, Australia, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and other countries.
The embarrassing accusations came as a decision was awaited from more than 150 cardinals meeting in the Vatican on a start date for the conclave, the arcane process by which a new Pope will be chosen.
If the new Pope is not sufficiently committed to transparency and rooting out corruption and nepotism, he can expect fresh leaks of sensitive Vatican documents, a mole within the Holy See told La Repubblica newspaper.
The unnamed “deep-throat” said Paolo Gabriele, Benedict’s disgraced butler, was not the only person stealing and leaking confidential papers.
He had the sympathy and support of around 20 others, including members of the Secretariat of State, the Vatican administration and L’Osservatore Romano, its official newspaper.
The leaking of documents last year, in a scandal dubbed “Vatileaks”, was intended to expose nepotism and intrigue at the heart of the Holy See and improve transparency.
The anonymous mole said he hoped the resignation of Benedict would “reverse the decline and offer the opportunity to his successor to start again from scratch. I hope that there will no longer be a need for moles to speak out.”
He also said that reports of a powerful gay lobby within the Vatican were true. “I could give the names of cardinals and monsignors, bishops and functionaries,” he said.