[JURIST] The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] on Tuesday filed an International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] complaint [text] against Vatican [official website] officials, including Pope Benedict XVI, for systematic sexual abuse and subsequent concealment of over 10,000 incidents. The group filed the complaint on behalf of clergy sex abuse survivors from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) [advocacy website], submitting more than 20,000 pages of materials [press release] allegedly evidencing crimes against humanity. Though abuse has been reported around the globe, the suit claims that in the US alone nearly 6,000 priests have been accused of molestation, estimating more than 100,000 US victims. Though the claims may not reach the ICC’s jurisdictional standard for investigating war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, plaintiffs are likely to receive the international attention and awareness they are seeking [NYT report] just by filing the suit. The complaint states:
As will be shown below, high-level Vatican officials, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, either knew and/or in some cases consciously disregarded information that showed subordinates were committing or about to commit such crimes. … They bear the greatest responsibility for the system that fosters and allow sexual violence. Time and again church officials have chosen the path of secrecy and protecting their ranks over the safety and physical and mental well-being of children and vulnerable adults, families of victims and their communities. … [T]here are documented cases showing that church officials have gone so far as to obstruct justice and/or destroyed evidence in national legal systems and have consistently engaged in the practice of “priest shifting,” i.e. transferring known offenders to other locations where they continued to have access to children or vulnerable adults and who officials knew continued to commit rape and other acts of sexual violence.
If jurisdiction is granted, this could be the first time the ICC investigates crimes committed by Catholic clergy members.
In February 2010, the Vatican released church procedures [JURIST report] for handling alleged cases of sexual abuse by priests, instructing, “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.” The “Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations” summarizes the procedures governing investigations by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) [official profile] into allegations of sex abuse by clergy members. The CDF guidelines provide for interim measures meant to ensure the safety of others during civil authorities’ investigations or legal proceedings. The guidelines also outline a multi-tiered system of enforcement and appeals, including local bishops, the CDF, and the Pope himself. Since 2007, in the US alone, the Church has settled more than 500 cases [JURIST news archive] of abuse for over $900 million.