Victims say criminal charges against pope are not a stunt

September 13, 2011

VATICAN CITY (RNS) A campaign to hold the pope responsible for "crimes
against humanity" is not a publicity stunt, sex abuse victims say, even
as experts doubt it will have much success at the International Criminal

In a dramatic and unprecedented move, abuse victims filed a
complaint that seeks to hold Pope Benedict XVI and others responsible
for the "systematic and widespread concealing of rape and child sex
crimes throughout the world."

Lawyers representing the Survivors Network of those Abused by
Priests (SNAP) filed the 84-page complaint at the ICC in The Hague, the
Netherlands, on Tuesday (Sept. 13).

The filing calls for the investigation and prosecution of the pope
and three other top Vatican officials: former Vatican Secretary of State
Cardinal Angelo Sodano; current Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio
Bertone; and Cardinal William Levada, a former archbishop of San
Francisco who now has jurisdiction over abuse cases as head of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The four men 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 direct cover up of crimes," said
Pam Spees, a lawyer with the New York-based Center for Constitutional
Rights, which filed the complaint on SNAP's behalf.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi declined requests for
comment. But Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples, former head of the
Vatican's missionary office, told the Vatican Insider website that the
filing was "the usual anti-Catholic attempt that tends in some way to
obscure" the image of the church.

Tuesday's filing cites five cases of sex abuse which occurred in the
U.S. and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The latter country,
unlike the U.S. and the Vatican, is a party to the Rome Statute, which
governs the ICC.

Vatican lawyers have argued that local bishops do not act as agents
of the pope, noting that they do not receive their salaries from Rome
nor work on Vatican property, and that the pope is therefore not
responsible for their mishandling of sex abuse cases.

Various attempts to hold the Vatican responsible through the U.S.
court system have repeatedly failed, usually because the pope, as the
head of a sovereign state, is immune from prosecution.

On Tuesday, a leading authority on international law characterized
the SNAP filing as an effort to attract publicity for the group's cause,
which would not receive serious consideration from the ICC.

"There will be no follow-up," said Giorgio Sacerdoti, who teaches at
Milan's Bocconi University. "It will be set aside."

Among the reasons the court is likely to view the sex abuses cases
as beyond its jurisdiction, Sacerdoti said, is that they were not part
of a "systematic" attack on human rights.

SNAP President Barbara Blaine denied that the complaint is a
publicity stunt.

"We have submitted 20,000 pages of evidence that fully document all
the crimes in a way that meets the criteria of the ICC," Blaine said.
"Our attorneys have done due diligence."