by Laurie Goodstein

Marlise Simons contributed reporting from Paris and Rachel Donadio from Rome
September 13, 2011

from NewYorkTimes Website

Human rights lawyers and victims of clergy sexual abuse said they would file a complaint on Tuesday urging the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to investigate and prosecute Pope Benedict XVI and three top Vatican officials for crimes against humanity for what they described as abetting and covering up the rape and sexual assault of children by priests.

The formal filing of nearly 80 pages by two American advocacy groups,

...marks the most substantive effort yet to hold the pope and the Vatican accountable in an international court for sexual abuse by priests.

A spokesperson at the court said that the prosecutor’s office will examine the papers,

“as we do with all such communications.”


The first step will be, “to analyze whether the alleged crimes fall under the court’s jurisdiction,” Florence Olara, the prosecutor’s spokeswoman said.

Complaints about the Vatican and child abuse by Catholic priests have been received at the court before, court records showed. But Ms. Olara said that details are not normally disclosed by the court unless a case goes forward.

Lawyers familiar with the I.C.C. said that it was unlikely that complaint against the Vatican would fit the court’s mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. But even an examination of the issue by the prosecution office would appear to serve the plaintiffs’ goal of getting international attention for the case.

A Vatican spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Vatican officials have often said that the decisions about priests accused of abuse are made by bishops - not by the Vatican hierarchy - and that the church is far more decentralized than is widely believed.

But the lawyers and abuse victims who are taking the case to the international court say their action is necessary because all the cases brought against priests and bishops in various countries have not been sufficient to prevent the crimes from continuing.

“National jurisdictions can’t really get their arms around this,” said Pamela Spees, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who helped prepare the filing.


“Prosecuting individual instances of child molestation or sexual assault has not gotten at the larger systemic problem here. Accountability is the goal, and the I.C.C. makes the most sense, given that it’s a global problem.”

In addition to Pope Benedict XVI, the filing asks the court to prosecute,


Tarcisio Bertone

Angelo Sodano

William Levada


A central question is whether the accusations will fit the court’s criteria.


The International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed after July 1, 2002, when the court opened. It is independent of the United Nations and has jurisdiction in the 117 countries that so far have ratified the Rome Statute that created the court.

  • Italy, Germany and the Netherlands are signatories

  • The Vatican and the United States are not

The filing against the Vatican cites five cases in which priests have been accused of abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United States; the priests in these cases are from,

  • Belgium

  • India

  • the United States

Ms. Spees said she hoped to convince the court that the cases were within its jurisdiction, because they involve abuses that she said were “systematic and widespread,” and because the pope and two of the three cardinals named in the filing are from nations that are signatories to the Rome Statute.

Experts in international law said they thought the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, would be reluctant to accept the cases because of thorny jurisdictional questions, as well as political and religious sensitivities.

They said that the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests was sufficiently heinous and numerous to meet the court’s standards. The question is whether the facts show that the Vatican officials actually perpetuated the abuse.

Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, which is based in London, said he thought that the Court would open a preliminary investigation to determine whether it has jurisdiction - and that it would probably conclude that it did not.

“Crimes against humanity means acts that are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population,” Mr. Ellis said.


“What you’re looking at is really a policy, in which the government or the authorities are planning the attack.”

“When you look at the concept of why and how the I.C.C. was created, I just don’t think this fits,” he said.


“But the filing does something that’s important. It raises awareness. Ultimately the plaintiffs will elevate this in the public eye and it will force the court to respond.”




Abuse Victims Seek International Court Case...

Against Pope

by Mike Corder and Rachel Zoll

The Associated Press

September 13, 2011

from NewsDay Website


Corder reported from The Hague. Zoll reported from New York. Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield contributed to this report from Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI, flanked by bishop Pietro Marini, Master of Liturgical Celebration

walks at the end of a Holy Mass in Ancona' s shipyard,

on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011.

Pope Benedict XVI prayed for the victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks

and called on world leaders and others to resist what he calls

the "temptation toward hatred."

(AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands - (AP)

Clergy sex abuse victims upset that no high-ranking Roman Catholic leaders have been prosecuted for sheltering guilty priests brought their claims Tuesday to the International Criminal Court, seeking an investigation of the pope and top Vatican cardinals for possible crimes against humanity.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based nonprofit legal group, requested the inquiry on behalf of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, arguing that the global church has maintained a "long-standing and pervasive system of sexual violence" despite promises to swiftly oust predators.

The Vatican said it had no immediate comment.

The odds against the court opening an investigation are enormous. The prosecutor has received nearly 9,000 independent proposals for inquiries since 2002, when the court was created as the world's only permanent war crimes tribunal, and has never opened a formal investigation based solely on such a request.

Instead, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has investigated crimes such as genocide, murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers in conflicts from Darfur to this year's violence in Libya.


Such cases have been referred to the court by the countries where the atrocities were perpetrated or by the United Nations Security Council.

Also, the Holy See is not a member state of the court, meaning prosecutors have no automatic jurisdiction there, although the complaint covers alleged abuse in countries around the world, many of which do recognize the court's jurisdiction.

However, attorneys for the Survivors Network argued that no other national entity exists that will prosecute high-level Vatican officials who failed to protect children. In the U.S., no Roman Catholic bishop has been criminally charged for keeping accused clergy in parish jobs without warning parents or police.


Within the church, only the pope can discipline bishops.


The few who have been publicly punished by the Vatican have been sanctioned for molesting children, not for negligence in supervising priests.

"When a church has been left to its own devices it does nothing. It wouldn't even have the reforms it has now if these cases hadn't begun to bubble up and erupt in the public outside the confines of what the church can control," said Pam Spees, a Center for Constitutional Rights attorney leading the case.

The complaint names,

  • Pope Benedict XVI, partly in his former role as leader of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which in 2001 explicitly gained responsibility for overseeing abuse cases

  • Cardinal William Levada, who now leads that office

  • Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who was the Vatican secretary of state under Pope John Paul II

  • Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who now holds that post

Attorneys for the victims equate the abuse with rape, sexual violence and torture that is considered a crime against humanity as described in the international treaty that spells out the court's mandate.


The complaint also accuses Vatican officials of creating policies that perpetuated the damage, constituting an attack against a civilian population.

The Survivors Network and victims are pursuing the case as the abuse scandal, once dismissed as an American problem by the Vatican, intensifies around the world. Thousands of people have come forward in Ireland, Germany and elsewhere with reports of abusive priests, bishops who covered up for them and Vatican officials who moved so slowly to respond that molesters often stayed on the job for decades.

Vatican officials and church leaders elsewhere have apologized repeatedly, clarified or toughened church policies on ousting abusers and, in the U.S. alone, paid out nearly $3 billion in settlements to victims and removed hundreds of priests. Bishops insist they fully grasp the devastation that molestation causes to victims and the limits dioceses must impose on abusive clergy.

However, the scandal is far from resolved.

The Vatican is fighting on multiple legal fronts in the U.S. against lawsuits alleging the Holy See is liable for abusive priests. Just last month, the Vatican was forced to turn over internal personnel files of an abusive priest to lawyers representing a victim in Oregon.

Those prosecutions also could form an impediment to the ICC taking the case. The tribunal is a court of last resort, meaning it will only take cases where legal authorities elsewhere are unwilling or unable to prosecute.

Also, the court doesn't investigate crimes that occurred before its 2002 creation.


A study commissioned by the U.S. bishops from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York found abuse claims had peaked in the 1970s, then began declining sharply in 1985, as the bishops and society general gained awareness of the problem.