THE HAGUE — Victims of clergy sex abuse upset that no high-ranking Roman Catholic leaders have been prosecuted for sheltering guilty priests went to the International Criminal Court on Tuesday, seeking an investigation of the pope and top Vatican cardinals for possible crimes against humanity.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based nonprofit legal group, requested the inquiry on behalf of the Survivors Network, arguing that the global church has maintained a "long-standing and pervasive system of sexual violence" despite promises to swiftly oust predators.
The Vatican said it had no immediate comment on the complaint.
The complaint names:
• Pope Benedict XVI, partly in his former role as leader of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which in 2001 explicitly gained responsibility for overseeing abuse cases.
• Cardinal William Levada, who now leads that office.
• Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state under Pope John Paul II.
• Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who now holds that post.
Attorneys for the victims say rape, sexual violence and torture are considered crimes against humanity as described in the international treaty that spells out the court's mandate.
The complaint also accuses Vatican officials of creating policies that perpetuated the damage, constituting an attack against a civilian population.
Barbara Blaine, president of the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said going to the court was a last resort.
"We have tried everything we could think of to get them to stop and they won't," she told 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 odds against the court opening an investigation are enormous. The prosecutor has received nearly 9,000 independent proposals for inquiries since 2002, when the court was created as the world's only permanent war crimes tribunal, and has never opened a formal investigation based solely on such a request.
Instead, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has investigated crimes such as genocide, murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers in conflicts from Darfur to this year's violence in Libya. Such cases have been referred to the court by the countries where the atrocities were perpetrated or by the U.N. Security Council.
Also, the Holy See is not a member state of the court, meaning prosecutors have no automatic jurisdiction there, although the complaint covers abuse in countries around the world, many of which do recognize the court's jurisdiction.
"Politically, people do not want to look at this," said Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Pam Spees before walking to the court with victims to hand prosecutors boxes full of documents.
Ms. Spees conceded that she is "not hopeful" the court will launch an investigation.
The prosecutor's office said in a statement that the evidence would be studied. "We first have to analyze whether the alleged crimes fall under the Court's jurisdiction," it said.
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