The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, through their attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed a complaint Tuesday, charging that Pope Benedict XVI and three top Vatican officials aided and systematically covered up the rape and sexual assault of children by priests worldwide, the center said in a release.
Submitted with the complaint were more than 20,000 pages of supporting documentation such as reports, policy papers and evidence of crimes Catholic clergy committed against children and vulnerable adults, the center said.
"Crimes against tens of thousands of victims, most of them children, are being covered up by officials at the highest level of the Vatican," CCR senior staff attorney Pam Spees said. "These men operate with impunity and without accountability."
The pope and other Vatican officials named in the complaint "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," Spees said. "They should be brought to trial like any other officials guilty of crimes against humanity."
"SNAP wants to prevent even one more child from being raped or sexually assaulted by a priest and we hope that victims around the world will know today that they are not alone and that it is safe to speak up and report their abuse," SNAP President Barbara Blaine said.
Besides Pope Benedict, the filing asks the court to prosecute Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state; Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the immediate past-secretary of state now the College of Cardinals dean; and Cardinal William Levada, leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that receives cases of clergy sexual abuse, The New York times reported.
International law experts told the Times they thought ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo may be reluctant to accept the matter because of jurisdictional issues and political and religious concerns.
Sexual abuse of minors by priests was sufficiently heinous and numerous to meet the court's standards, the experts said, leaving the question of whether the facts presented indicate Vatican officials perpetuated the abuse.