(Photo: AP Images / Gregorio Borgia)
Clergy sex abuse victims from several countries, including the United States, have filed a complaint against top Vatican officials, including the Pope, with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on Tuesday, and have threatened to go to Europe to gather more evidence.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and their attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) have accused the Holy See of not reacting to rape, sexual assault and torture of young people over the years.
The accusation is aimed directly at Pope Benedict XVI and three Cardinals, William Levada, current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Tarcisio Bertone, current Secretary of State of Vatican; and Angelo Sodano.
Vatican officials “tolerate and enable the systematic and widespread concealing of rape and child sex crimes throughout the world,” CCR representatives said.
SNAP members from the United States, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands traveled to The Hague to convince the ICC to take action. SNAP and CCR officials are also planning to embark on a European tour to demand local dioceses to help them get evidence of more abuse.
The human rights organization, SNAP is constituted mostly of past victims, including 21-year-old Megan Peterson who spoke of her abuse publicly for the first time last week.
“It’s important that the court understands that this is still happening and that they need to take this case seriously and do the right thing,” Ms. Peterson said. “I don’t want any more kids to go through what I went through.”
“In this case, all roads really do lead to Rome,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pam Spees. “These men operate with impunity and without accountability. They should be brought to trial like any other officials guilty of crimes against humanity.”
The Vatican officials in question are also responsible for psychological torture of victims around the world, she added.
Together with the charges SNAP filed 20,000 pages of supporting materials consisting of reports, policy papers and “evidence of the crimes by Catholic clergy committed against children and vulnerable adults.”
SNAP’s President Barbara Blaine said in a statement that the organization is looking to prevent “even one more child from being raped or sexually assaulted by a priest” and that she hopes “the victims around the world will know today that they are not alone and that it is safe to speak up and report their abuse.”
According to CCR, Church authorities in the U.S. admitted to sheltering close to 6,000 Catholic priests who were publicly accused of child molestation over the past few decades.
As many as 20,000 sexually abusive priests still work as spiritual leaders, even after criminal charges against them were filed, the agency said.
Yet according to estimates, the probability that the ICC will open an investigation is small. The court has previously received nearly 9,000 independent proposals for inquiries, and there has never been a formal investigation based solely on such a request, said AP.
Furthermore, the Holy See is not a member state of the court, meaning prosecutors have no automatic jurisdiction.