Despite efforts by clerical sexual abuse victims to charge Pope
Benedict XVI with crimes against humanity, the case likely falls
outside the court's jurisdiction.
An attempt to prosecute Pope Benedict XVI in the International
Criminal Court (ICC) for clerical sexual abuse around the globe
faces daunting legal obstacles that make it unlikely the case will
be heard, but will nonetheless put the Vatican's role in the abuse
under new public scrutiny.
The complaint, filed Tuesday by the Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests (SNAP) through its attorneys from the Center for
Constitutional Rights (CCR), charges that "Vatican officials
tolerate and enable the systematic and widespread concealing of rape
and child sex crimes throughout the world."
SNAP President Barbara Blaine said in a press statement: "SNAP
wants to prevent even one more child from being raped or sexually
assaulted by a priest and we hope that victims around the world will
know today that they are not alone and that it is safe to speak up
and report their abuse. We as victims are mobilizing across the
globe, and every survivor is invited to join us."
In a statement to the Associated Press, the Vatican described the
move as a "ludicrous publicity stunt and a misuse of international
A high legal bar
The challenge for SNAP and the CCR will be to show that the ICC
has jurisdiction over the case. Created by, but operating
independently of, the United Nations, the ICC was founded in 1998
for the purpose of trying individuals for war crimes such as
genocide and crimes against humanity.
Experts say the matter of the Roman Catholic Church's
responsibility for cases of child abuse is outside the remit of the
ICC. "It's a publicity stunt, it's nothing more," says British
attorney Neil Addison, author of legal textbooks including Religious
Discrimination and Hatred Law.
"The ICC is supposed to exist for situations of war crime and
where there isn't a legal remedy within the country where the
offenses took place. [But] all the child abuse that took place
within Ireland took place under the jurisdiction of the Irish
courts, the same for the US, and so on," Mr. Addison says.
"In simple terms, to get a prosecution before the ICC you need to
show that what happened was part of a 'widespread and significant
attack directed against any civilian population.' The ICC is not
designed for dealing with normal criminality," he says.
But the CCR claims that its case against the Vatican authorities
is in keeping with the court's purview.
"We have looked at findings from all over the world and feel it
fits the criteria for the court," says Pamela Spees, a senior staff
attorney with the CCR. "If nobody ever demands it then it will never
happen, it's certainly not going to happen on its own."
The CCR says it has provided 22,000 pages of documentation
alongside its filing with the court, including copies of judicial
reports from Ireland and Canada, grand juries in the US, and
"We're not simply talking about a situation where they kept
[child abuse] silent - which is bad enough - they knew the sexual
violence would continue when shift these guys [accused priests]
around," she said. …