U.S. Groups Sue Pope, Cardinals at ICC over Clerical Sex Abuse

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September 14, 2011 11:51 AM EST

U.S. groups representing victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests sued the pope and Vatican officials Tuesday before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity.

The New York-based rights group Center for Constitutional Rights and Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) filed the lawsuit and asked the ICC to investigate Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinals Angelo Sodano, Tarcisio Bertone and William Levada.

In the complaint, the CCR and SNAP said the four should be prosecuted for "widespread and systematic torture, rape and sexual violence committed by priests and others associated with the Catholic church," reported the Italian news agency ANSA. The groups also claimed that the officials had done very little to bring those responsible to justice.

"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 attorney Pam Spees further told ANSA.

"We have tried everything we could think of to get them to stop and they won't," SNAP President Barbara Blaine said, according to The Associated Press. "If the Pope wanted to, he could take dramatic action at any time that would help protect children today and in the future, and he refuses to take the action."

The Pope oversaw abuse cases in 2001, when he was head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Levada is now the head of the congregation.

Sodano was the former Vatican secretary of state, a post now occupied by Bertone.

Thousands of people in Germany, Ireland and the U.S. have reported sexual abuse by priests the past few years and complained that bishops failed to act on their complaints.

The ICC prosecutes cases of genocide, murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers but its jurisdiction is limited to countries that officially recognize the court.

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