Hague Is Asked to Investigate Vatican Over Abuse

By Laurie Goodstein, NY Times

Human rights lawyers and victims of clergy sexual abuse said they would file a complaint on Tuesday urging the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate and prosecute Pope Benedict XVIand 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, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, marks the most substantive effort yet to hold the pope and the Vatican accountable in an international court for sexual abuse by priests.

Some experts in international law said that while it was unlikely that the court would prosecute the case, it might investigate to see whether the matter is within its jurisdiction, which could serve the plaintiffs’ goals of elevating the issue internationally.

A Vatican spokesman was unavailable immediately 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 Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state; Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the previous secretary of state and the current dean of the College of Cardinals; and Cardinal William Levada, who is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office designated to receive cases of clergy sexual abuse that are forwarded by bishops.

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 countries that so far have ratified the Rome Statute that created the court. Italy, Germany and the Netherlands are signatories, while 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 and 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.”

Rachel Donadio contributed reporting from Rome.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/world/europe/14vatican.html?_r=1&hp

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