The Catholic Church’s response to a viral hashtag campaign targeting its leaders has led to the resignation of several priests, the resignation last week of the head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, and the resignation this week of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the most senior Roman Catholic to be removed from the job since the papacy of John Paul II.
On Friday, Ratzener resigned as Pope Francis’s top cleric, after it emerged he had used the hashtag “StopTheFault” on social media to describe the Vatican’s handling of sexual abuse cases in the years after the Second Vatican Council, when abuse was first being reported.
In a letter to priests and religious who had been targeted by the hashtag campaign, Ratzer wrote that he had been unable to “preserve the dignity of the priesthood” because of his “deep sense of personal responsibility and accountability.”
The Vatican has been accused of failing to act on complaints that priests abused children by priests in the 1980s and 1990s, and has not done enough to protect children in the church’s care.
The hashtag campaign targeted prominent Catholic figures, including Cardinal Sean Brady, who resigned as the archbishop of Kansas City last week.
Brady was one of a number of prominent figures in the Catholic church who were accused of sexual misconduct while in the Vatican.
The archbishop was also the first to resign from the church.
The Vatican said it would investigate allegations of sexual harassment against Ratzner, and that he would be suspended for three years from his position.
It was not immediately clear what punishment the pope would impose on Ratzerer.
The Twitter campaign, which has drawn criticism from many critics, has led some Catholics to call for reform.
Pope Francis, who was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and became pope in March, has said he does not condone abuse.
In addition to Ratzenger, some Catholic bishops have called on their congregations to boycott or not participate in the social media campaign until the Vatican has investigated allegations of misconduct.
The Vatican has refused to allow bishops to publicly address allegations of wrongdoing in the archdiocese, which is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of Denver.
The Church has faced criticism for its handling of the sexual abuse scandal in the decades after the Vatican Council in the early 1980s, which the Church says was not a cover-up of abuse.