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“When a church has been left to its own devices, it does nothing. It wouldn’t even have the reforms it has now if these cases hadn’t begun to bubble up and erupt in the public outside the confines of what the church can control,” Ms. Spees said.

The Survivors Network and victims are pursuing the case as the abuse scandal, once dismissed as an American problem by the Vatican, intensifies around the world. Thousands of people have come forward in Ireland, Germany and elsewhere with reports of abusive priests, bishops who covered up for them and Vatican officials who moved so slowly to respond that molesters often stayed on the job for decades.

Vatican officials and church leaders elsewhere have apologized repeatedly, clarified or toughened church policies on ousting abusers and, in the U.S. alone, paid out nearly $3 billion in settlements to victims and removed hundreds of priests. Bishops insist they fully grasp the devastation that molestation causes to victims and the limits that dioceses must impose on abusive clergy.

However, the scandal is far from resolved.

The Vatican is fighting on multiple legal fronts in the U.S. against lawsuits alleging the Holy See is liable for abusive priests. Just last month, the Vatican was forced to turn over internal personnel files of an abusive priest to lawyers representing a victim in Oregon.

Those prosecutions also could form an impediment to the ICC taking the case. The tribunal is a court of last resort, meaning it will only take cases where legal authorities elsewhere are unwilling or unable to prosecute.

Also, the court doesn’t investigate crimes that occurred before its 2002 creation. A study commissioned by the U.S. bishops from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York found abuse claims had peaked in the 1970s, then began declining sharply in 1985, as the bishops and society general gained awareness of the problem.

But Ms. Blaine said the abuse continues and she wants church leaders to face justice.

“These priests and church officials live by some other law,” she said. “Somehow they’re not held accountable like every other citizen of a nation. That would be horrific in and of itself, but what must end is shattering the innocence of even one more child.”

Mike Corder reported from The Hague; Rachel Zoll reported from New York. Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield contributed to this report from Rome.