Abuse victims file complaint against pope with criminal court in the Hague


TWO US advocacy groups yesterday filed sex abuse complaints against Pope Benedict XVI with the International Criminal Court in the Hague. In what is arguably the most comprehensive attempt yet to hold both the Holy See and the pope legally responsible for “widespread sexual abuse by priests in various countries”, the two US groups have called on the court “to investigate the Vatican for crimes against humanity”.

The two groups – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap) and the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) – have combined to present the court with a 20,000-page dossier which names Pope Benedict, former Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano, current secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as “bearing the greatest responsibility for a system of sexual violence in the church”.

In a statement yesterday, the groups said: “In the wake of the scandals in Canada, Ireland, Germany, the United States and elsewhere, experts and investigators who have studied the issue of sexual violence by members of the clergy have identified policies and practices of the Vatican and high-level officials of the Catholic Church that allowed the sexual assaults to continue.

“It is the fact that the Vatican has had a longstanding policy and practice of dealing with sexual violence by priests in ways that ensured that such violence would continue that is as shocking and deeply alarming as the magnitude and gravity of the offences. High-level Vatican officials, including Pope Benedict XVI, either knew or in some cases consciously disregarded information that showed subordinates were committing or about to commit such crimes and further allowed and often facilitated access by predator priests to children and vulnerable adults . . .”

Based in the Hague, the court officially came into existence in July 2002 under the terms of the so-called Rome Statute. In the wake of the temporary tribunals which ruled on human rights abuses in the 1990s in both Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, many countries had argued for the creation of a permanent, independent and international war crimes court. The original 1998 Rome treaty was signed by 120 countries but was ratified by only 60. In theory, the international court should be used as a court of last resort only if national proceedings are not taking place. Neither the US nor the Vatican signed up to the jurisdiction.

Snap and the CCR argue that the international court is the appropriate forum for this complaint to be heard. Under the provisions of the international court’s statutes, they claim, Vatican officials fit the definition of non-military superiors who can be held responsible “for crimes committed by subordinates”.

Commentators said that it was unlikely the court would take on this case, given many of the crimes took place before 2002.