Oscar-winning documentary maker Alex Gibney suggests Pope Benedict XVI's departure stems from recent sex scandals

Oscar-winning film-maker Alex Gibney, whose documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God details a small part of the current wave of accusations surrounding the Catholic church, has suggested that the Pope's resignation stems from the stain of recent sex scandals.

Gibney, whose film is out in the UK on Friday, told the Hollywood Reporter that the departure of Benedict XVI had brought great solace to people who had suffered abuse at the hands of priests. "His papacy will always be saddled with the stain of the sex abuse crisis," he said, adding that the resignation "seems to me inextricably linked to the sex abuse crisis".

Gibney's film, which screened in the US on the HBO pay-TV channel last week, examines the case of five deaf men who were abused as boys by one predatory priest at the St John's School for the Deaf in Milwaukee during the 1960s. Despite taking their claims all the way to the Vatican in their quest for justice, they were consistently rebuffed. Benedict XVI, in his earlier capacity as Cardinal Ratzinger, was responsible for ordering all reports of sex abuse to be channelled through his office at the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, which he ran from 2001 to 2005.

Two of the men whose stories are detailed in Gibney's film "expressed great joy that he had resigned", said Gibney. "They felt he was a symbolic figure for them, and his resignation showed some sense of accountability from the church. So, yes, they were actually joyful." One wrote in an email: "Finally. Many, many thanks to you and your crew for spreading our word, because we want to protect all innocent children. May the universe bless you."

Gibney, who won an Oscar for his war-on-terror torture film Taxi to the Dark Side in 2007, admitted he had no proof for his suggestion that the Pope resigned due to the sex abuse crisis surrounding the church. However, he noted that media criticism had heightened recently due to deepening scandals in Los Angeles and Australia.

Pope Benedict XVI announced his pending resignation on Monday in an unusual move – the first departure via abdication in almost 600 years – which has drawn speculation from media worldwide. "It is very strange," said Gibney. "It's two days before Ash Wednesday. Because of the way that the conclave works, it means no pope will probably reside over Easter Sunday Mass. You wonder if there is another shoe to drop."

© Guardian News and Media 2013