Church Abuse Victims Seek Justice At World Court A group representing victims of abuse by clerics of the Catholic Church are asking the International Criminal Court to investigate the Vatican. The group says high-level officials should be prosecuted for what it calls a "widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population."

Clerical Abuse Victims Seek Justice At World Court

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/140424290/140444494" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has dealt with plenty of war criminals and warlords, but it may soon have a different target: the Catholic Church. The tribunal is being asked to investigate top Vatican officials over the global clerical sex abuse scandal.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome, the argument is that the sex offenses meet the legal definition of crimes against humanity and should be prosecuted.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: They're delivering more than 20,000 pages of documentation from all over the world to the International Criminal Court, the ICC. Attorney Pam Spees says the evidence shows that crimes of clerical sex abuse constitute a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.

PAM SPEES: And what we're saying is that the crimes of sexual violence within the church context are widespread, certainly, but they're also being committed on a systematic basis in the sense that it is the policies and practices of the church and church leadership, which allow these things to continue.

POGGIOLI: SNAP's David Clohessy says these crimes, which follow the same pattern throughout the world, can't be effectively addressed piecemeal by prosecutors in individual countries, but require the scrutiny of an international institution.

DAVID CLOHESSY: The systematic rape of children on a global basis, day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, in this massive institution where there are virtually no checks and balances, we honestly believe that that is every bit as heinous and needs to be exposed and stopped as crimes of an individual military general who abuses the power of his troops and his weaponry.

POGGIOLI: The complaint cites two liability theories: superior responsibility where persons in positions of authority can be found liable for the actions of others if they knew or had reason to know about and failed to prevent the prevent the crimes or failed to turn the matter over to civil authorities; and individual responsibility, for example, attorney Spees says when the current Pope was head of the Vatican office handling clerical sex abuse cases.

SPEES: You see over periods of years, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger either refusing to defrock offending priests, even when the bishops are telling him over and over again this harm is being done. There's more risk of harm. And he's leaving them there or he's moving them.

POGGIOLI: Clohessy says psychologists and experts believe not more than 15 percent of men and women who were sexually abused as children ever speaks out and an even smaller percentage takes legal action.

CLOHESSY: In virtually every country, what has come to light about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups in the Catholic church is dwarfed - dramatically dwarfed - by the secrets that remain hidden and that's why we think that an investigation is really, really crucial.

POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.