September 13, 2011 witnessed two American advocacy groups attempt to hold the pope and the Vatican accountable in an international court, for what many are calling crimes against humanity. On Tuesday, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests filed a complaint aimed directly at the Vatican. The complaint prompted the court to investigate and prosecute four top Vatican officials, including Pope Benedict XVI. Human rights lawyers, in association with victims of clergy sexual abuse, allege that these Vatican officials aided and abetted the rape and sexual assault of children by priests.
Human rights lawyers, representing the victims of clergy sexual abuse, filed a formal complaint in the International Criminal Court (ICC) of The Hague in The Netherlands. Pamela Spees, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights acknowledged that “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.” The nearly 80 page complaint is the most significant attempt to hold Vatican officials, including the pope, accountable for sexual abuse in an international court of law.
According to a news conference held at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, sexual abuse victims from the United States and Europe, along with their representatives, were obligated to take drastic steps in the persecution of the Catholic church. Previous attempts to do so have been insufficient in the prevention of sexual abuse cases. Therefore, the complaint filed on Tuesday suggests that lawyers and abuse victims intend to hold the Catholic church accountable for their actions, and to prevent future crimes and cover-ups.
Included in the formal complaint were multiple reports acknowledging that the church simply transfered priests to another ministry, where they continued working with children after having been accused of clergy abuse. The report identifies numerous cases in which church officials knowingly transfered sexual offenders to ministries outside of the country, perhaps to cover-up future complications that could possibly tarnish the Vatican’s prestigious name. Doing so proves a blatant disregard for the safety of children at ministries across the globe.
In addition to Pope Benedict XVI, the complaint requested for 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 J. 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. Each of these officials allegedly displayed a propensity for the blatant disregard of child safety when they transfered priests or simply covered up such incidents.
However, the verdict is still out as to whether or not the International Criminal Court will consider this case as part of it’s jurisdiction. The ICC has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed after July 1, 2002. It is independent of the United Nations and has jurisdiction in the 117 countries that so far have ratified the Rome Statute that created the court.
Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association thinks that heinous acts by the church will prompt the court to open a preliminary investigation to determine jurisdiction. However, he believes that the court will ultimately conclude that it does not have the rights to reside over such affairs. He does, however, believe that the steps taken thus far will cause great awareness and may lay a foundation for future clergy abuse lawsuits.
Furthermore, ICC court records acknowledge that complaints about the Vatican and child abuse by Roman Catholic priests have been received before. Only to be disregarded because of jurisdiction mandates. Lawyers familiar with the ICC said it was unlikely the complaint against the Vatican would fit the court’s mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
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