Pope accused of crimes against humanity

A group representing victims of sexual abuse has lodged a formal declaration with the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing Pope Benedict and three Vatican officials of crimes against humanity.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) allege that Vatican officials tolerated and enabled the systematic and widespread concealing of rape and child sex crimes.

“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,” said Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP.

The complaint names Pope Benedict XVI, partly in his former role as leader of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which in 2001 explicitly gained responsibility for overseeing abuse cases; Cardinal William Levada, who now leads that office; Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state under Pope John Paul II; and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who now holds that post.

Lawyers for the victims say rapes sexual violence and torture are considered a crime against humanity as described in the international treaty that spells out the court’s mandate.

“We have tried everything we could think of to get them to stop and they won’t,” Blaine told Associated Press.

However with many of the crimes occurring before the ICC was set up in 2002, it is likely the offences fall outside the courts remit.

The situation is compounded by the Vatican not signing up to the ICC’s jurisdiction.

“It will be very difficult to make an argument that the Church as an organized 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.

While the Vatican has not signed up, Germany and Italy have, which means their citizens are subject to ICC jurisdiction.

“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.”

The Vatican’s lawyer calls SNAP’s attempt to bring the Pope and Vatican officials to the ICC “ludicrous” and a publicity stunt.

Jeffrey Lena, who represents the Vatican in U.S. sex abuse cases, says the request for the Hague tribunal to launch an investigation into possible crimes against humanity is a “misuse of international judicial processes.”


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