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Clergy Abuse Victims Urge International Court to Investigate Catholic Church Sex Crimes

In an effort to hold the Catholic church accountable for sexual abuse by priests, human rights lawyers and victims of clergy abuse have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court to investigate these matters.
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In a vast and unprecedented effort to hold the Catholic church accountable for sexual abuse by priests, human rights lawyers and victims of clergy abuse have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (I.C.C) in The Hague to investigate these matters. According to the New York Times, the charges being sought against Pope Benedict XVI and other top Vatican hierarchy are for abetting and covering up the widespread and systematic sexual assault of children by priests. The Clergy Abuse Lawyers at Schmidt & Clark, LLP are currently accepting potential lawsuits nationwide on behalf of victims injured by priests and other members of the clergy.

Clergy Abuse Update 5/25/12: This week, thousands of documents concerning nine Roman Catholic priests who settled a landmark clergy abuse lawsuit in 2006 were made public. The newly-released files provide a detailed look into the accusations, as well as reveal instances when members of the clergy were allowed to interact with children despite their superiors being aware of previous indiscretions. Click here to learn more.

Catholic Sexual Abuse Update 4/12/12: The number of reports of sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests skyrocketed by more than 15% last year, according to a recent audit released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 2011, there were nearly 500 credible reports filed against Roman Catholic priests or deacons nationwide. Click here to learn more.

Free Clergy Abuse Lawsuit Case Evaluation: If you or a loved one has been sexually abused or molested by a priest or other member of the clergy, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to compensation by filing a lawsuit and we can help.

What’s the problem?

September 13, 2011 - Today, the Centers for Constitutional Rights and the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests jointly filed nearly 80 pages with The Hague in an attempt to hold the pope and other Catholic church officials accountable for decades of flagrant sex crimes allegedly committed by clergy members.

According to the complaint, ‘The high-level officials of the Catholic church who failed to prevent and punish these criminal actions have, to date, enjoyed absolute impunity.’

The next step will be for the prosecutor’s office in The Hague to examine the papers and to analyze whether the alleged crimes fall under the international court’s jurisdiction. Complaints about Catholic church sex abuse have been received at the court before, but the details were not disclosed because the cases never went forward.

Those opposed to the advocacy groups’ actions have stated that clergy abuse issues do not fit the international court’s normal mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In defense of the Vatican hierarchy, church officials have claimed that the decisions made about clergy abuse are made by lower ranking members, and that the Roman Catholic church is much more loosely organized than is widely believed.

In a news conference held today at The Hague, lawyers and abuse victims stated that filing charges with the international court was necessary because all previous attempts to hold the church accountable had not been sufficient to prevent continuing crimes and cover-ups. The court documents allege that a number of priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct were simply moved to parishes in different countries, and that they continue to work with children with the knowledge of their superiors to this day.

‘National jurisdictions can’t really get their arms around this,’ said Pamela Spees, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who helped prepare the filing. ‘Prosecuting individual instances of child molestation or sexual assault has not gotten at the larger systemic problem here. Accountability is the goal, and the I.C.C. makes the most sense, given that it’s a global problem.’

The filing asks The Hague to prosecute the following members of the Vatican hierarchy:

  • Pope Benedict XVI;
  • Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state;
  • Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the previous secretary of state and the current dean of the College of Cardinals;
  • Cardinal William J. Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office designated to receive cases of sex abuse that are forwarded by bishops of individual parishes.

The main issue is whether this type of case will fit the international court’s normal agenda. The Hague currently has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed after July 1, 2002. It acts independently of the United Nations, and has jurisdiction in nearly 120 countries around the world. Italy, Germany and Belgium fall under the international court’s jurisdiction, while the Vatican and the United States do not. The court filing lists five individual clergy abuse cases that were filed in the United States and the Democratic Republic of Congo against priests from Belgium, India and the United States.

International law experts are conflicted as to whether the issue of clergy abuse is sufficiently heinous and widespread to be taken by The Hague. Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, went on record to state that he believed the I.C.C. would investigate to determine whether it had jurisdiction, but that it would most likely end up concluding that it did not.

'Crimes against humanity means acts that are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population,' Mr. Ellis said. 'What you’re looking at is really a policy, in which the government or the authorities are planning the attack. When you look at the concept of why and how the I.C.C. was created, I just don’t think this fits,” he said. “But the filing does something that’s important. It raises awareness.'

Interested in learning more? Click here if you’d like to research additional clergy abuse topics from Schmidt & Clark, LLP.

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