Abuse victims' advocates ask international court to investigate Vatican
Victims of clergy sexual abuse and their advocates in 22 cities on Wednesday took the unusual step of asking the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands to investigate the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI and other top Vatican officials, saying they are responsible for enabling and concealing the sexual abuse of children worldwide.
Seattle Times staff reporter
In Seattle and 21 other cities across the country, victims of clergy sexual abuse and their advocates announced Wednesday that they have taken the unusual step of asking the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate Pope Benedict XVI and other top Vatican leaders for concealing child-sex crimes throughout the world.
The announcement, staged by the advocacy group SNAP — Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests — was to encourage abuse victims to come forward with their complaints.
"We hope to get calls from more survivors who suffer in silence and shame," said John Shuster, local coordinator for SNAP, which held a news conference Wednesday outside St. James Cathedral, near the First Hill headquarters of the Archdiocese of Seattle.
"Today local gatherings are being held to spread the word," he said. "We want to take this to the highest court in the world."
Greg Magnoni, spokesman for the Seattle Archdiocese, said the complaint is well beyond the purview of local dioceses to speak about.
"But whenever victims come forward, it's the opportunity for us to express our deep regret and sorrow for those harmed," he said. "The Catholic Church has taken responsibility for sins and crimes of the past and is doing everything we can to work with victims and prevent child-sexual abuse."
The advocacy group accompanied its request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) with a long written complaint detailing allegations of clergy abuse and cover-up.
The ICC, founded in 2002, is an international organization that deals mostly with recent war crimes and crimes against humanity. Persuading it to investigate the Vatican and clergy sex abuse is a longshot, say lawyers who have represented sex-abuse victims.
"Jurisdiction is a hurdle," Mike Pfau, a local attorney who has successfully sued the Roman Catholic Church in Seattle and in Spokane, acknowledged. "The court has handled war crimes, but the argument can be made that the abuse of children is as tragic and heinous as anything. It's a crime against humanity."
Another victims' attorney, Tim Kosnoff, was also supportive, saying the complaint to the ICC "suddenly reframes the issue in the public consciousness."
The 84-page complaint was filed in The Hague by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a human-rights organization based in New York, and SNAP. "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 said on the organization's website.
At the Seattle event, Clarita Vargas said she was physically and sexually abused while a student at St. Mary's Mission, a former Jesuit-run boarding school on the Colville Indian Reservation in Eastern Washington. In March, the Jesuits said they would pay $166.1 million to about 500 abuse victims nationwide, many Native American.
Vargas, who will receive some money from the settlement, said she was imprisoned in cellars at the school and lived with fear and intimidation, with nowhere to turn.
Also at the Seattle event, Mary Dispenza said she was raped by a priest in Los Angeles in 1947 when she was just 7. While the priest was eventually defrocked, he escaped a trial because the statute of limitations had expired.
"It's a long journey coming to this corner," she said. "So much shame keeps people from coming forward." She urged victims to contact SNAP at snapnetwork.org.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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