Hauling the Pope before the International Criminal Court

Yesterday, the Center for Constitutional Rights requested that the International Criminal Court, a tribunal headquartered in The Hague, prosecute the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI, and three cardinals for “crimes against humanity” in connection with the clergy sex-abuse scandal.  The complaint alleges that the Vatican tolerated the systematic and widespread rape and torture of children and vulnerable adults throughout the world and that Pope Benedict XVI and three cardinals bear personal responsibility for these crimes as a matter of direct authority and respondeat superior.

There are serious legal problems with CCR’s complaint.  First, sexual abuse by clergy does not fit easily within the definition of a “crime against humanity” contained in the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute of 2002.  The Rome Statute defines a “crime against humanity” as “a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population,” a definition that suggests something like a wartime atrocity.  Second, the Vatican is not a state-party to the Rome Treaty.  That’s not necessarily a show-stopper, as the ICC has jurisdiction over crimes Read more