Hague court urged to investigate Pope over sex abuse

AMSTERDAM Tue Sep 13, 2011 1:22pm EDT

Pope Benedict XVI (R) leads a mass at the Cuatro Vientos aerodrome as part of World Youth Day festivities in Madrid August 21, 2011. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Pope Benedict XVI (R) leads a mass at the Cuatro Vientos aerodrome as part of World Youth Day festivities in Madrid August 21, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Victims of sexual abuse by the clergy want the International Criminal Court to investigate Pope Benedict and three Vatican officials, accusing them of allowing the rape and abuse of children.

The New York-based rights group Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and another group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), filed a complaint with the ICC alleging that Vatican officials committed crimes against humanity because they tolerated and enabled sex crimes.

But it seems unlikely that the ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes court, could take on such a case.

Many of the crimes occurred before 2002, when the ICC was set up, which puts them outside the court's remit, while the Vatican itself has not signed up to the court's jurisdiction.

"It will be very difficult to make an argument that the Church as an organized group committed a crime against humanity and it would be debatable whether that was based on a common plan," said Andre de Hoogh, a senior lecturer in international law at Groningen University.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by a series of sexual abuse scandals and allegations of cover-up in Europe and the United States in recent years.

But this is the first time the sexual abuse scandal has been brought to an international jurisdiction, marking a new approach by victims and rights groups.

Victim support groups, which usually target church officials with their lawsuits, have increasingly sought to implicate the Vatican in their legal action.

In its filing with the ICC on Tuesday, rights group CCR alleged that sex abuse crimes were "widespread and systematic."

"Crimes against tens of thousands of victims, most of them children, are being covered up by officials at the highest level of the Vatican. In this case, all roads really do lead to Rome," CCR lawyer Pam Spees said.

A Vatican spokesman said there would be no immediate comment.

"The Office of the Prosecutor has received the documents," spokeswoman Florence Olara said, adding the prosecutor's office "will analyze ... and make a decision in due course."


While the Vatican has not signed up to the ICC, countries such as Italy, the Netherlands and Germany have done so, which means that their citizens are subject to ICC jurisdiction.

Pope Benedict is German-born and because a pope retains his nationality when he also takes on Vatican nationality this could potentially expose him to ICC prosecution.

"It is a very slim avenue, but it's an avenue nonetheless," said Lorraine Smith at the International Bar Association, which monitors the ICC. "But there is still the issue of the timing of the offences."

Alongside a filing of more than 80 pages, CCR said it had lodged more than 20,000 pages of supporting material including reports, policy papers and evidence of crimes by Catholic clergy committed against children and vulnerable adults.

SNAP members from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States travelled to The Hague to file the request.

It names Pope Benedict, former Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, current Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone and Cardinal William Levada, the top doctrinal official.

Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn publicly accused Sodano last year of blocking a Church inquiry into his predecessor, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who stepped down in 1995 after being accused of sexually abusing young student priests.

The ICC has investigated crimes including genocide, murder, conscription of child soldiers and rape, mostly in Africa. In June, it issued an arrest warrant for Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

The prosecutor's office has received more than 9,000 requests for investigations, but has said almost half of them were "manifestly outside" its jurisdiction.

In June, Syrian human rights groups called on the court to investigate the killing of civilians in Syria, but the court lacks jurisdiction there because Syria is not an ICC member.

The Rome Statute that set up the court also stipulates that the ICC should be used as a court of last resort only if national proceedings are not taking place.

The prosecutor must first seek approval from ICC judges before formally opening an investigation.

(Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block, Tom Heneghan and Philip Pullella; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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Comments (3)
Who else will be brought before the Court for similar crimes? The Boy Scouts? Every school system in the World? Every Protestant denomination (who on a larger scale than the RC Church move abusive clergy/staff without notice, due to their congregational governance structures)?

Predators seek out occupations and work environments that put them in close contact with their victims. I don’t give the RC Church a pass on its failure to protect children, but neither do I see anything particular to the RC Church that demands such singular attention. For that, the origin lies in bigotry.

Sep 13, 2011 1:58pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
flafreethink wrote:
This needs to be investigated now. Not sometime in the next century. This church, religion, and followers are responsible for more horror then one can imagine. The abuse must stop. Now. Investigate, convict and incarcerate.

Sep 13, 2011 3:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Physician wrote:
I hope and pray that the Hague investigates Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican for continuing to allow priest sexual abuse,especially of innocent children,to flourish worldwide.

As a Catholic physician who has met many who have been sexually abused by priests, the Pope and Vatican must no longer be allowed to cover-up these crimes.

Where are the integrity and transparency of Pope Benedict XVI, if he chooses to hide behind a claim to diplomatic immunity, so that he will not have to open the Vatican cases of sexual abuse worldwide to investigation?

The truth will set us free! The truth must be made known so that the victims can have some form of justice from the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

I do not have hope that justice will be served at the International Criminal Court at the Hague, unless a new, non-Catholic prosecutor is appointed.

I read that Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo is a Catholic and has defended priests who were accused of sexual abuse in the past.

As a Catholic, I know that Catholic professionals can have a misguided deference for Catholic clergy, and this prosecutor should withdraw from making a judgment in cases of priest sexual abuse in his own Church.

If Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo does not withdraw himself. I believe that he should be replaced by a clearly unbiased, non-Catholic prosecutor in order for some justice to hopefully come to the victims, and for the Pope and others to be made accountable for what they have allowed, and continue to allow, worldwide in their cover-up of priest sexual abuse.

Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Chicago, USA

Sep 17, 2011 2:42pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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