Pope, Cardinals Sued at The Hague for Priestly Sex Abuse

VATICAN CITYAVN first reported on investigations looking into charges that priests were sexually abusing altar boys and other child congregants in the early '90s, and since then, dozens of clergy have been convicted of such abuse, and several dioceses have had to pay out millions of dollars in damages to their now-grown victims. But according to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), it's not enough—so the group has filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to hold those priests' boss—the Pope—responsible for the Catholic Church's years of inaction.

According to the Religion News Service, besides Pope Benedict XVI, the SNAP complaint also names former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano; current Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone; and Cardinal William Levada, a former archbishop of San Francisco who, the article notes, "now has jurisdiction over abuse cases as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

"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, " saidPam Spees, Senior Staff Attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which filed the complaint on SNAP's behalf. "These men operate with impunity and without accountability. The Vatican officials charged in this case are responsible for rape and other sexual violence and for the physical and psychological torture of victims around the world both through command responsibility and through direct cover up of crimes. They should be brought to trial like any other officials guilty of crimes against humanity."

According to a CCR press release, "SNAP estimates that there are as many as 100,000 American victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and that in other nations, where child-protection laws may not be as robust as in the United States, the number of victims is equally staggering. As many as 20,000 sexually abusive or violent predator priests are still working even after having been accused of a crime; often, these priests are simply shifted to areas where the Church has extreme power or influence, or to remote areas isolated from mechanisms of support, prevention, and accountability."

The 70-page complaint pulls no punches, charging that, "ongoing revelations of pervasive and serious sexual violence against children and vulnerable adults by priests and others associated with the Catholic church in different parts of the world have demonstrated that the problem is not one of isolated, random sexual assaults by errant priests but is occurring on a widespread and systematic basis throughout the church."

"Time and again church officials have chosen the path of secrecy and protecting their ranks over the safety and physical and mental well-being of children and vulnerable adults, families of victims and their communities," the complaint continues. "As is detailed below, there are documented cases showing that church officials have gone so far as to obstruct justice and/or destroyed evidence in national legal systems and have consistently engaged in the practice of 'priest shifting,' i.e. transferring known offenders to other locations where they continued to have access to children or vulnerable adults and who officials knew continued to commit rape and other acts of sexual violence. As is detailed below, there are documented cases of bishops and cardinals purposefully misleading their parishioners and communities about offending priests, lying to victims and their families, and indeed blaming victims and/or their families. Whistleblowers have been punished and those who have endeavored to maintain secrecy and protect the institution have been rewarded. As will be shown in more detail below, it is now clear that the actions of such bishops and cardinals conform to, rather than depart from, Vatican policy. In doing so, they have not just kept rape and sexual violence quiet, they have kept it going."

The complaint cites report after report, investigation after investigation, and court case after court case all over the world—much of it in the U.S.—that indicate a pattern of willful ignorance by Catholic hierarchy regarding the practices of the clergy in their charge—if in fact it wasn't the bishops and cardinals themselves committing the abuse.

The complaint asks that an investigation of these "crimes against humanity" be initiated by the Prosecutor under the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court, noting that additional charges may be brought once the Prosecutor completes his/her investigation.

However, conducting the investigation in the United States could prove problematic, since the U.S., unlike 116 other countries in the world, is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, and claims that the ICC has no jurisdiction over U.S. citizens—like, for instance, the country's war criminals. Fortunately, several U.S. grand juries in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago have already looked into priestly pedophilia, and the reports of those grand juries form part of the evidence submitted by CCR.

The investigation could take several years, and it's unlikely that specific charges against the Catholic hierarchy will be made until it is completed—but when it is, it's likely that, from the church's point of view, all hell will have broken loose.