Hague court urged to investigate Pope over sex abuse

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.

Pope Benedict

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 organised 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 yesterday, 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 analyse … and make a decision in due course.”

EVIDENCE

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.

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