Pope Ratzinger (photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo)

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed an International Criminal Court (ICC) complaint case today that calls on the ICC to investigate and prosecute the Vatican for crimes against humanity. The complaint details what the two groups call “systematic and widespread concealing of rape and child sex crimes throughout the world.”

CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pam Spees declared “crimes against tens of thousands of victims, most of them children, are being covered up,” by high-ranking officials at the Vatican. The men involved in the coverup enjoy impunity and are “responsible for rape and other sexual violence and for the physical and psychological torture of victims around the world.”

SNAP president Barbara Blaine said victims around the globe are mobilizing. The group wants those abused to know it is “safe to speak up” and that they intend to ensure that not one more child is raped or sexually assaulted by a priest.

The 84-page complaint filed specifically charges, “Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, either knew and/or in some cases consciously disregarded information that showed subordinates were committing or about to commit such crimes.”

Highlighted in the complaint are the findings of government and inter-governmental commissions, inquiries and grand juries that have been held in Canada, Ireland and the United States and before the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

The Ryan Report, which the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse issued in 2009, was the result of a 10-year inquiry into sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Ireland. It chillingly shows a “climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from. It found rape and sexual violence was “endemic.”

In the case of the grand jury in Westchester County, New York, a report was put out in 2002 noting:

…the specific types of abuse varied, including instances when the abusing clergy member masturbated the child victim to climax; engaged in oral sex; fondled the victim’s penis and buttocks; forced the victim’s hand onto the offender‟s penis; and engaged in mutual masturbation to climax by force” and further that the “overwhelming evidence demonstrated that sexual abuse and/or misconduct by a member of the clergy had shattering psychological effects on the victim-child.

The religious institution, the grand jury found, did not seek to alleviate the trauma when it was discovered priests had abused children. Instead, the priests refused to report offenses to law enforcement and the trauma experienced by the victim increased.

The grand jury in Suffolk County, New York produced a report on January 17, 2003, that described cases where:

  • One priest who raped and fondled 4 teenage girls was sent to psychological treatment where it was found he should not be sent back to his parish. This advice was ignored and he was returned to the parish, which was attached to a school, only to reoffend
  • One priest repeatedly raped a 15 year old girl until she was 19, and started a pattern of continuous fondling and masturbation of her sister when she was 12.
  • Another priest assaulted four brothers. The first was only 9 when this began, with the Priest performing oral sex on him while he was sleeping, and continued with touching and oral sodomy until the age of 16. One of the brothers committed suicide.
  • One priest who was an alcoholic would supply boys with drinks and when they passed out they would awaken to him masturbating them or performing oral sodomy

In all instances outlined above, “predator priests” were moved from one parish to the next. Victims were deceived. Protecting the diocese from scandal was prioritized.

A report by the Attorney General’s office in New Hampshire uncovered a “rape fest.”

One victim described his most painful memory was of taking a road trip with the offending priest and three other boys to Indiana for four to six weeks. He described the trip as a “rape fest” – Father Aube engaged in sexual contact with one boy after the other, in the same “session.” Aube was accused of assaulting 17 victims, and was also reported as using physical pain and violence to get victims to agree to various sex acts.

A second grand jury convened in Philadelphia completed its investigation in September 2005. At least 63 different priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were found to have engaged in sexual abuse of children. Hundreds of child victims were uncovered. The evidence the grand jury confirmed:

  • A girl, 11 years old, was raped by her priest and became pregnant. The priest took her in for an abortion.
  • A 5th-grader was molested by her priest inside the confessional booth.
  • A teenage girl was groped by her priest while she lay immobilized in traction in a hospital bed. The priest stopped only when the girl was able to ring for a nurse.
  • A boy was repeatedly molested in his own school auditorium, where his priest/teacher bent the boy over and rubbed his genitals against the boy until the priest ejaculated.
  • A priest, no longer satisfied with mere pederasty, regularly began forcing sex on two boys at once in his bed.
  • A boy woke up intoxicated in a priest‟s bed to find the Father sucking on his penis while three other priests watched and masturbated themselves
  • A priest offered money to boys in exchange for sadomasochism – directing them to place him in bondage, to “break” him, to make him their “slave,” and to defecate so that he could lick excrement from them.
  • A 12-year-old, who was raped and sodomized by his priest, tried to commit suicide, and remains institutionalized in a mental hospital as an adult.
  • A priest told a 12-year-old boy that his mother knew of and had agreed to the priest‟s repeated rape of her son.
  • A boy who told his father about the abuse his younger brother was suffering was beaten to the point of unconsciousness. “Priests don‟t do that,” said the father as he punished his son for what he thought was a vicious lie against the clergy.

The Archdiocese deliberately worked to conceal abuse. The Archdiocese “bullied, intimidate, lied to and even investigated” victims of sex crimes. One priest was moved around to new diocesan communities that “they were running out of places to send him where he would not already be known.”

Beyond the grotesque and vile examples of sex crimes contained in the complaint, how cover-ups of sexual violence have been successful is detailed. The Vatican has refused to cooperate with civil authorities, engaged in “priest-shifting,” destroyed evidence and obstructed justice, whistleblowers have been punished and cover-ups have been rewarded. A good amount of blaming the victims has happened as well.

The Philadelphia Grand Jury found Diocesan officials intimidated and retaliated against victims and witnesses who came forward with details on abuse. Officials fired a nun from her position as a religious education director after she complained about a priest “still ministering to children.” One seminarian who revealed how he was abused when he was an altar boy was “accused of homosexuality and dismissed from the diocese.”

Sovereignty Before Justice for Victims of Sex Crimes

More significantly, as the complaint makes clear, the Vatican does not think it should be “subject to laws of other governing authorities.” Priests and bishops contend they swear an oath to the Vatican itself and no other authority.

This why officials like Italian Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone have rejected applying civil laws to priests and bishops who have violated children and committed sex crimes:

In my opinion, the demand that a bishop be obligated to contact the police in order to denounce a priest who has admitted the offense of pedophilia is unfounded. Naturally civil society has the obligation to defend its citizens. But it must also respect the professional secrecy of priests, as it respects the professional secrecy of other categories, a respect that cannot be reduced simply to the inviolable seal of the confessional. If a priest cannot confide in his bishop for fear of being denounced, then it would mean that there is no more liberty of conscience.

A US State Embassy cable sent out on October 23, 2002, and published by WikiLeaks confirms this reality. The cable shows when a US conference of Catholic bishops passed what is now known as the Dallas Charter the Vatican did not fully support the Charter because it “contradicted” Canon Law and could violate “due process rights of the accused clergy.” Also, while the Holy See supported efforts to “respond firmly,” the Holy See contended a “very small number” of Church personnel had committed “misdeeds.” The Holy See also did not like how broadly “sexual abuse” was defined. Non-physical acts were included in the definition, which the Holy See considered to be “vague and imprecise and therefore difficult to interpret.”

Then-Charge d’Affaires D. Brent Hardt appears willing to advocate on behalf of the Vatican to ensure that no mechanisms are put into place that would make it difficult for the Vatican to maintain the ability to not be subject to any laws other than Church law, which obviously enables the Vatican to conceal evidence of priests that commit sex crimes:

… THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT THE VATICAN WANTS TO DEAL EFFECTIVELY WITH THE PROBLEM OF SEXUAL ABUSE BY CLERGY, BUT DOES NOT WANT TO DO SO AT THE COST OF DEPRIVING CLERGY OF DUE PROCESS. THE HOLY SEE DOES NOT AT THIS TIME REGARD THE U.S. BISHOPS’ EFFORT AS A MODEL FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD, WHERE IN CERTAIN COUNTRIES VOLUNTARY NORMS HAVE ALREADY BEEN AGREED WITH THE TACIT APPROVAL OF THE HOLY SEE. NEVERTHELESS, THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT THAT THE U.S. POLICY WILL BECOME A POINT OF REFERENCE FOR OTHER COUNTRIES COMING TO TERMS WITH PAST CASES OF ABUSE. FOR THIS REASON, THE HOLY SEE WANTS TO BE SURE THAT THE U.S. NORMS ARE FULLY CONSISTENT WITH CHURCH LAW AND PROVIDE A LASTING BASIS TO PROTECT MINORS FROM ABUSE WHILE ENSURING CANONICAL DUE PROCESS FOR ACCUSED CLERGY.

Another cable sent out on November 25, 2005, by Ambassador L. Francis Rooney describes a meeting between the Ambassador and Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano. He complains about “aggressive attorneys” pursuing lawsuits against the Vatican for sexual abuse and also Nazi-era gold “allegedly acquired by the Holy See.” Sodano is “confident” that “sovereign immunity” will allow the Holy See to “emerge unscathed from these suits” yet Sodano is unsettled. The State Department is urged to “respect” (which likely means intervene) and ensure the Holy See’s “sovereign power” was not challenged.

In the cables where “sex” and “abuse” are mentioned, it is rarely, if ever, suggested that the Vatican is engaged in coverups, despite reports that have been released. There are never any meetings to let the Vatican know that it should cleanse the Catholic Church of those in the enterprise, who have committed depraved acts against children. Instead, diplomats working with the Vatican appear to be the Holy See’s personal public relations assistants.

For example, a secret cable sent out on February 26, 2010 (and reported on last December) reveals the Vatican was “offended” by requests from the Murphy Commission to provide information on sex crimes. The Vatican thought the Irish government “failed to respect and protect Vatican sovereignty during the investigations.” Though US diplomat Julieta Valls Noyes acknowledges the abuse revealed is “appalling,” she ultimately concludes:

…[Vatican analysts] agree the Holy See’s handling of the Irish scandal shows the Vatican learned some important lessons from the U.S. sex abuse scandal of 2002. By acting quickly to express horror at allegations, to label the alleged acts both crimes and sins, and to call in the local leaders to discuss how to prevent recurrences, the Vatican limited – but certainly did not eliminate – the damage caused to the Church’s standing in Ireland and worldwide. Unfortunately, given the growing abuse scandal in Germany, it may need to deploy those lessons again before long.

Conclusion

The gross details on the priests and bishops of the Catholic Church, which appears to function like a criminal syndicate, are more than enough to hope the ICC takes action and finally gives the victims of sex crimes justice they deserve.

Additionally, details that have trickled out from cables released by WikiLeaks suggest the State Department may be complicit in the crimes the Vatican has covered up. To the extent that US government officials have helped protect the Vatican from prosecutions, they, too, deserve to be investigated for their role in helping the Church obstruct justice for victims of systematic and widespread crimes against humanity.