The International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague on Tuesday received a formal complaint on sexual abuse by Catholic priests, in a request that seeks the prosecution of Vatican officials for “rape, sexual violence and torture.”
Filed by the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in conjunction with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) the complaint is not likely to go far, as the Vatican is a sovereign state and not a signatory to the court.
If the court did assert jurisdiction over the church, it would be the first time the ICC has pursued officials with a non-signatory state.
Instead, details of the complaint were disclosed to the media likely in an effort to raise awareness of the crimes committed by priests in dozens of countries, which were largely covered up by the church. Vatican officials insist that lower-level bishops often made the decisions to transfer priests to other areas after they were accused of sexual abuse.
Cases brought against priests in other nations have been difficult to prosecute due to the church’s international standing as a sovereign state. This complaint is somewhat more ambitious than others, as it seeks the prosecution of Pope Benedict, the Vatican’s secretary of state, the dean of the College of Cardinals and the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees sexual abuse allegations.
“Crimes against tens of thousands of victims, most of them children, are being covered up by officials at the highest level of the Vatican. In this case, all roads really do lead to Rome,” CCR attorney Pam Spees commented, in a media advisory. “These men operate with impunity and without accountability. The Vatican officials charged in this case are responsible for rape and other sexual violence and for the physical and psychological torture of victims around the world both through command responsibility and through direct cover up of crimes. They should be brought to trial like any other officials guilty of crimes against humanity.”
The ICC complaint comes amid plans by SNAP to tour Europe and visit local diocese to demand the release of documents pertaining to priest sexual abuse — a detail that’s sure to bolster the perception that the groups are embarking on a publicity campaign.
“In the United States alone, church authorities admit that nearly 6,000 priests have been publicly accused of molesting children over the past few decades,” an advisory from SNAP said. “SNAP estimates that there are as many as 100,000 American victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and that in other nations, where child-protection laws may not be as robust as in the United States, the number of victims is equally staggering.”
The ICC is limited by statute and unable to prosecute any crimes that took place before 2002. The United States, as well, is not a signatory to the court.