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Survivors Of Clergy Sexual Abuse Make History

September 17, 2011

This week survivors of clergy sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church made history.  It was the first time that victim/survivors came together from throughout the world to demand that the Vatican be held to account for the rape and molestation of countless numbers of children.

Victim/Survivors from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests and attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights formally filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court requesting that the court investigate and prosecute senior Vatican officials for crimes against humanity.  Those officials include Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal William Levada, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

The official court filing was accompanied by over 20,000 supporting documents which show that the four named Vatican officials have overseen the widespread and systematic sexual assault of children across the planet.  Attorney Pamela Spees, with the Center for Constitutional Rights noted that “national jurisdictions can’t really get their arms around this…prosecuting individual instances of child molestation or sexual assault has not gotten at the larger systemic problem here”.

That larger systemic problem is the sexual violence that has been, and continues to be, perpetrated against children in the Catholic Church.  This violence has been committed against children in the United States, Ireland, Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and Mexico. This list of nations will continue to grow as survivors come forward and share their stories. In countries where the Catholic Church has a presence there are likely to be found children who have suffered from these heinous crimes.

The International Criminal Court is the most appropriate venue to investigate and prosecute these crimes precisely because this is a global problem.  Attorney Spees correctly stated that “in these cases all roads really do lead to Rome”.

Why Pope Benedict XVI, Tarcisio Bertone, William Levada, and Angelo Sodano?

There is perhaps no Vatican official who has seen more reports of clerical sex abuse than Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.  Ratzinger was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) for over two decades.  As head of the CDF Ratzinger had responsibility for overseeing the handling of all sexual abuse reports in the church.

One of the reports to reach Ratzinger’s desk was the case of Lawrence Murphy, a priest in Milwaukee who assaulted over 200 deaf children at St. John’s School for the Deaf.  The archbishop of Milwaukee at the time, Rembert Weakland, had written two letters to Ratzinger warning him of the danger Murphy posed.  Weakland received no response from Ratzinger.  He did receive a reply from Bertone who instructed Weakland to begin a secret canonical trial.  Murphy wrote to Ratzinger asking for leniency and Ratzinger granted his request.  The canonical trial was halted and when Murphy died he was allowed to be buried in his full priestly vestments.

Tarcisio Bertone is the current Vatican Secretary of State who served as Secretary of the CDF under Joseph Ratzinger.  Bertone has indicated that he does not feel it is appropriate for bishops to report priests who have raped children to law enforcement officials.  He has stated that “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…if a priest cannot confide in his bishop for fear of being denounced then it would mean there is no more liberty of conscience”.

Angelo Sodano formerly served as Vatican Secretary of State under John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.  He famously said that reports of Ratzinger’s involvement in the case of Lawrence Murphy was merely “petty gossip”.  Sodano was also one of Marcial Maciel’s most ardent supporters.  Maciel, the founder of the religious order the Legionaries of Christ, was a notorious pedophile who even assaulted his own children.  Sodano advised Ratzinger not to prosecute Maciel for his crimes of sexual violence against children.

William Levada is the current prefect of the CDF.  Levada, in a court deposition in 2006, admitted that he had failed to report cases of child sexual assault to law enforcement officials.  In an interview with PBS Levada said that the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church “is a crisis if you will that I think caught most of us by surprise”.  It was in fact hardly a surprise to Levada. In 1985 Levada met with Fr Tom Doyle, a Vatican canon lawyer, Rev. Michael Peterson, a psychiatrist, and Raymond Mouton, a criminal lawyer who defended pedophile priest Gilbert Gauthe.  The three men presented Levada with an extensive 92 page report detailing the sexual abuse crisis in the church that was on the verge of exploding.  Levada was one of the first U.S. bishops to be briefed on the magnitude of the abuse that was occurring.

As head of the CDF Levada is now in charge of all sex abuse reports that reach the Vatican.

Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican’s attorney in the United States has called the complaint filed at the International Criminal Court by victim/survivors a “ludicrous publicity stunt”.  The court filing has generated considerable publicity, but it is disingenuous to refer to it as a stunt.

The victim/survivors who filed this complaint at The Hague are sending a message to the Vatican and to the world.  The message is loud and it is clear, those who have suffered from these terrible crimes will not allow another child, and another generation of children to experience the sexual violence that they themselves have endured.  The time has come to hold the Vatican and its officials accountable for their actions.

The filing this week of the criminal complaint at the International Criminal Court was historic indeed.

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One Comment
  1. Stay tough and keep fighting. There are finally more and more people with morals fighting for you, and some of us are a loud and angry bunch.

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