Pope Benedict XVI, who has been cited in a complaint to the international criminal court. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images
Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have accused the pope, the Vatican secretary of state and two other high-ranking Holy See officials of crimes against humanity, in a formal complaint to the international criminal court (ICC).
The submission, lodged at The Hague on Tuesday, accuses the four men not only of failing to prevent or punish perpetrators of rape and sexual violence but also of engaging in the "systematic and widespread" practice of concealing sexual crimes around the world.
It includes individual cases of abuse where letters and documents between Vatican officials and others show a refusal to co-operate with law enforcement agencies seeking to pursue suspects, according to the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a US-based organisation that represents the claimants.
Pam Spees, human rights attorney with CCR, said: "The point of this is to look at it from a higher altitude. You zoom out and the practices are identical: whistleblowers are punished, the refusal of the Vatican to co-operate with law enforcement agencies. You see the protection of priests and leaving them in the ministry and because of these decisions otherchildren are raped and sexually assaulted."
She said: "It's not only the facts of the abuse but the way that the church deepened the harm in sometimes irreparable ways."
According to the document filed by CCR, the pope, as head of the Catholic church, is ultimately responsible for the sexual abuse of children by priests and for the cover-ups of that abuse. The group argues that he and others have "direct and superior responsibility" for the crimes of those ranked below them, similar to a military chain of command.
The others named in the complaint are Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and former Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Tarcissio Bertone, now secretary of state, who previously served at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the organisation tasked with handling sexual abuse cases under the pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger; and Cardinal William Lavada, head of the CDF, whose handling of previous sexual abuse cases has been criticised in the past.
Megan Petersen, from Minnesota, is one of two named US victims whose cases have been included in the complaint to the ICC. Petersen was awarded $750,000 (£500,000) last week in a civil claim against Crookston diocese, in which she alleged that a priest, Joseph Jeyapaul, had raped her repeatedly as a child.
Speaking at The Hague, where the complaint was being launched, Petersen said of Jeyapaul: "He was a man of God and I was very devout. I wanted to be a nun. I trusted him.
"Part of why I'm here is to protect kids. My perpetrator is still serving among kids and vulnerable adults, despite there being criminal charges against him. Ratzinger is the head of this organisation and these are his sheep, his flock. I will do everything in my power to make sure this does not happen to another child." Jeyapaul has denied the abuse from India, where he is serving as a priest.
Amnesty International's latest annual human rights report, which cited the Holy See for the first time, concluded there was widespread evidence of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy over past decades, and an "enduring failure" of the Catholic church to seek redress.
Arrest the Pope for crimes against humanity.
There were approximately 10,667 reported victims (younger than 18 years) of clergy sexual abuse:
Around 81% of these victims were male.
22.6% were age 10 or younger, 51% were between the ages of 11 and 14, and 27% were between the ages to 15 to 17 years.
A substantial number (almost 2000) of very young children were victimized by priests during this time period.
9,281 victim surveys had information about an investigation. In 6,696 (72%) cases, an investigation of the allegation was carried out. Of these, 4,570 (80%) were substantiated; 1,028 (18%) were unsubstantiated; 83 (1.5%) were found to be false. In 56 cases, priests were reported to deny the allegations.
In 38.4% of allegations, the abuse is alleged to have occurred within a single year, in 21.8% the alleged abuse lasted more than a year but less than 2 years, in 28% between 2 and 4 years, in 10.2% between 5 and 9 years and, in under 1%, 10 or more years.
The 4,392 priests who were accused amount to approximately 4% of the 109,694 priests in active ministry during that time. Of these 4,392, approximately:
56 percent had one reported allegation against them; 27 percent had two or three allegations against them; nearly 14 percent had four to nine allegations against them; 3 percent (149 priests) had 10 or more allegations against them. These 149 priests were responsible for almost 3,000 victims, or 27 percent of the allegations.
The allegations were substantiated for 1,872 priests and unsubstantiated for 824 priests. They were thought to be credible for 1,671 priests and not credible for 345 priests. 298 priests and deacons who had been completely exonerated are not included in the study.
50 percent were 35 years of age or younger at the time of the first instance of alleged abuse.
Almost 70 percent were ordained before 1970.
Fewer than 7 percent were reported to have themselves been victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children. Although 19 percent had alcohol or substance abuse problems, 9 percent were reported to have been using drugs or alcohol during the instances of abuse.
Many of the reported acts of sexual abuse involved fondling or unspecified abuse. There was also a large number of allegations of forced acts of oral sex and intercourse. Detailed information on the nature of the abuse was not reported for 26.6% of the reported allegations. 27.3% of the allegations involved the cleric performing oral sex on the victim. 25.1% of the allegations involved penile penetration or attempted penetration.
Pope Benedict used his annual speech to Rome's cardinals and bishops on Monday (Dec. 20) to ask them to reflect on the church's responsibility in the child sex abuse scandals.
Benedict qualified his mea culpa by stating that the scandal (in which priests who sexually abused children were often ignored or protected by the Catholic Church) was partly justified by the broader social context. Benedict said that while the church accepted some responsibility, he could not be silent about ''the context of these times.... There is a market in child pornography that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society." [History of Pornography No More Prudent Than Present]
Benedict claimed that as recently as the 1970s, "pedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children." In this climate, the Catholic Church's actions were merely reflecting the moral relativism of the times: "It was maintained — even within the realm of Catholic theology — that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself," Benedict said. That is, church leaders weren't sure if child sexual abuse was wrong, since secular society seemed to accept it.