Group wants Vatican investigated by war crimes tribunal

Victims of clerical sex abuse are asking the International Criminal Court to investigate the pope and other top Vatican officials for possible crimes against humanity.

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

The complaint names Pope Benedict XVI, partly in his former role as leader of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Since 2001, that office has been responsible for overseeing abuse cases. Also named are Cardinal William Levada, who now leads that office, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who served as the Vatican secretary of state under Pope John Paul II, and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who now holds that post.

The complaint accuses those officials of creating policies that perpetuated sexual violence against minors, the equivalent of an attack against a civilian population. Attorneys for the victims also contend that rape, sexual violence and torture are considered crimes against humanity according to the international treaty defining the court’s mandate.

The Vatican’s U.S. lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, told The Associated Press that the complaint is a “ludicrous publicity stunt and a misuse of international judicial processes.”

SNAP president Barbara Blaine said going to the court was a last resort.

“We have tried everything we could think of to get them to stop and they won’t,” she told AP. “If the pope wanted to, he could take dramatic action at any time that would help protect children today and in the future, and he refuses to take the action.”

The odds against the court opening an investigation are enormous, according to AP. 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.