International Criminal Court declines to pursue ‘crimes against humanity’ case against Vatican
Jun. 18, 2013|
A prosecutor of an international court has opted not to pursue a case against multiple Vatican officials for crimes against humanity related to the widespread clergy sex abuse of minors within the Catholic church.
The case was brought to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in the Netherlands in September 2011 by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the abuse victims advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who made public the decision Thursday.
In a 71-page complaint accompanied by more than 22,000 pages of supporting materials, the two organizations sought charges brought against four Vatican prelates for “enabling and concealing sexual violence worldwide”: Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone; former Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano; Cardinal William Levada, former prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
According to the letter, dated May 31, the prosecutor determined that the case fell outside the court’s jurisdiction because it did not satisfy several preconditions necessary for examination. Those included issues with “temporal jurisdiction” and “subject-matter jurisdiction.”
The ICC’s governing rules, known as the Rome Statute, limits the court to exercising jurisdiction over crimes committed after July 2002, or since the court’s establishment. Additionally, its scope is limited to “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole,” specifically genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity.
“From this analysis, I advise you that the matters described in your communication do not appear to fall within the jurisdiction of the Court,” the letter read, indicating the decision could be reconsidered in light of new evidence.
Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said he “never doubted this would be the response [of the ICC], given the total groundlessness of the accusation,” according to Religion News Service.
Barbara Blaine, SNAP president and founder, said though she had hoped the case would go farther, she was not surprised at the outcome. Despite the case’s denial, she said she was happy the prosecutor didn’t indicate the Vatican officials named were “somehow immune from prosecution.”
“When we started, we didn’t even know if the information that we were able to compile even met the criteria for being a crime against humanity,” Blaine told NCR.
“All we were trying to do was to protect other kids and get the church officials to stop the cover-up and stop putting more and more kids at risk. So in that sense, we think we’ve achieved something,” she said.
Pamela Spees, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who brought the case to the ICC, said the court identified several jurisdictional hurdles and “left the door open to reconsider” its decision.
“We obviously knew going in that the ICC is supposed to be a court of last resort. But we said it’s the only institution that is really set up to deal with the global nature of these crimes, and no one national system can realistically have the capacity to deal with the actual breadth and scale of this system,” she told NCR Friday.
“We’ll continue until there’s some form of justice and accountability and the system changes,” Spees said.
The International Criminal Court was established in June 1998, accelerated by early 1990s conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Rwanda after decades of efforts and talks. Initially, 120 countries voted in favor of the Rome Statute, while seven nations (including the United States) voted against it.
Requiring 60 nations to ratify the treaty, the final state did so in April 2002, with the court entering into force that July. As of February, 122 nations are parties to the court; the U.S. and the Holy See have yet to sign on to the treaty.
As for going forward, Blaine said SNAP will continue to compile additional evidence from across the globe in hopes the court will eventually take up the case. Spees indicated they could turn their attention to national judicial systems for a ruling before revisiting the ICC.
Possible jurisdictional sites include nations that are parties to the court and where evidence of clergy sex abuse and cover-up attempts are rampant, Spees said. They could also seek judicial intervention in court-member countries whose citizens have committed crimes or been involved in cover-ups in territories outside the court’s jurisdiction.
“It’s not only about the direct offender; it’s about those in the hierarchy who’ve in some way touched those cases that played a role in the system of cover-up and whether [ICC] could exercise jurisdiction over those individuals,” she said.
“The biggest key in all of this,” Spees said, “is showing that these things are still happening on the same scale and in the same way, and when we can do that, there’s going to have to be action.”
Outside observers have pointed toward another challenge: proving that the abuse and cover-up fit the court’s definition of a crime against humanity. The International Criminal Court describes a crime against humanity as any number of acts — murder, enslavement, deportation, torture, rape and sexual violence, among others — “when committed as part of a widespread of systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.”
Megan Fairlie, an assistant law professor at Florida International University who has written about international human rights law for a decade, told NCR this case’s difficulty comes in establishing that the abuse and cover-up followed a defined church policy to do so.
“Rape would qualify as a crime that could give rise to a charge for crimes against humanity. And certainly there’s evidence or information within SNAP’s filing that suggest that there was the widespread commission of that crime, but nothing to suggest that those crimes were part of an attack on the civilian population, that they were being carried out pursuant to some church policy,” she said.
Spees, who participated in the negotiations of the Rome Statute along with her co-counsel, recalled the process of defining the parameters of what constituted crimes against humanity as controversial. Even under the narrow scope that emerged, she said she believes the church’s actions — or inactions — still meet the standard.
“There’s a recognition in the statute that sometimes … the policy to have these things happen can be inferred from an omission. So it’s doing things to make sure these things happen, but it’s also omitting to do things from which you can infer a policy that these things happen,” she said.
Acknowledging there is a public opinion hurdle in addition to proving abuse continues on a large scale, Spees dismissed allegations that the case was less legal pursuit and more publicity stunt.
“We didn’t just file a request to the prosecutor asking them to prosecute the pope based on nothing. We went in with a very well-developed legal framework and analysis and thousands and thousands of pages of documentation to back that up,” she said.
[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
The Vatican Can’t Be Held Responsible For Things It Couldn’t Have Known. The Problem Is… It Knew A Lot
The Vatican Can’t Be Held Responsible For Things It Couldn’t
Have Known. The Problem Is… It Knew A Lot.
Where does accountability begin and end? I hosted a heated HuffPost Live discussion about that question with Marci Hamilton, a lawyer trying to hold the Vatican accountable for pedophile priests.
This week, the Church won a victory over Hamilton when an Oregon federal court ruled that the Holy See is not the “employer” of molester priests. The case could shield the Church from possible monetary damages, although Hamilton says she’ll appeal.
The Vatican’s responsibility for the actions of priests on the other side the world is not just a legal question. It’s a moral one. Defending the Vatican on HuffPost Live was writer-reporter James Marshall Crotty, who asked: “Is the Pope responsible for every action of anybody who works in a church? … Is the Pope responsible for the part-time guy who helps in a church with the liturgy and does something wrong? Is the Pope responsible for the person who volunteers at a shelter that’s overseen by the Church?”
No. He has a point. The Church can only be held responsible for what it should reasonably have known. The problem for Crotty and the Church’s other defenders is… it knew a lot. The Vatican is not an impartial head office, detached from the daily workings of its dioceses. Nor does it lack moral influence over its global franchise. It is a deeply engaged institution — and it has systematically enabled child rapists to escape justice and freely rape again. When Pope Benedict ran the diocese of Munich and Freising in 1980 as Archbishop Ratzinger, it came to his attention that one of his priests had taken an 11-year-old boy into the mountains, fed him alcohol, locked him up, stripped him naked, and forced the boy to give him a blow job. Ratzinger’s response was to send the priest off for “therapy.”
Quite apart from the absurdity of the idea that a man of Ratzinger’s character enjoys the deepest possible kinship with an all-wise creator of the universe, is there any doubt that he, his predecessors, and his colleagues have presided over a global operation that encourages its foot soldiers to turn the same blind eye he did?
As I argued on HuffPost Live, imagine if the Catholic Church were a secular child care institution that ran a franchise of dormitories and boarding schools. Imagine if that child care company was implicated in a vast, recurring cover-up of child rape. Would we absolve the CEO of responsibility because he didn’t know about every instance? Would we leave the board of directors in place, on the narrow grounds that its pedophile employees were technically hired by subsidiary operations — even though they wore the company’s uniform, adhered to its instruction manual, used the same training methods, provided the same services, hired and fired whom the head office told them to, and pledged fealty to the CEO every day? The company would be shut down in a heartbeat. Its owners would be in jail.
Barbara Blaine, a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest, was the third guest in the HuffPost Live conversation. As the founder and president of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests, she argued that Church officials try to have it both ways. “When it comes to something that has to do with the abuse of children, they want to wipe their hands of it and keep a distance,” she said. “But if that same priest were to come out in support of same-sex marriage, you can be sure that he or she would be removed or disciplined, and the Vatican would assert their authority.”
Sadly, most lawyers I’ve spoken with regard Hamilton’s case against the Vatican as a loser. When it comes to employment law, the Holy See has successfully distanced itself from the priests who work for it (or rather, apparently, who don’t.) It’s unsurprising that the institution has structured itself in such a way as to evade legal responsibility for its crimes. But that has no bearing on its moral responsibility. The Vatican may win in the courts of law. But in a higher court — a court whose judgment the Church, of all institutions, should care most about—the Vatican still has a case to answer.