Abuse victims seek international court case against pope

Clergy sex abuse victims 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, a move that Vatican called a “ludicrous publicity stunt.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based nonprofit legal group, requested the inquiry on behalf of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, arguing that the global church has maintained a “long-standing and pervasive system of sexual violence” despite promises to swiftly oust predators.

The Vatican’s U.S. lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, called the complaint a “ludicrous publicity stunt and a misuse of international judicial processes” in a statement to The Associated Press.

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; and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who now holds that post.

Attorneys for the victims say rape, sexual violence and torture are considered a crime 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 alleged 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.

But Spees conceded she was “not hopeful” the court would launch an investigation.

The prosecutor’s office said in a statement the evidence would be studied. “We first have to analyze whether the alleged crimes fall under the Court’s jurisdiction,” it said.

Attorneys for the Survivors Network argued that no other national entity exists that will prosecute high-level Vatican officials who failed to protect children.

In the U.S., no Roman Catholic bishop has been criminally charged for keeping accused clergy in parish jobs without warning parents or police. Within the church, only the pope can discipline bishops. The few who have been publicly punished by the Vatican have been sanctioned for molesting children, not for negligence in supervising priests.

“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,” said Spees.

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 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.”

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Monastery pays €700,000 to victims of abuse

The Benedictine monastery Ettal in the German state of Bavaria announced Tuesday that it is paying 70 former pupils between €5,000 and €20,000 each in compensation, after decades of child abuse were uncovered there last year.
The compensation payments were determined by an independent board of trustees that judged each case individually.

The cases, some of which dated back to the 1950s, included incidents of sexual and psychological abuse as well as severe beatings.

“The monastery was not included in the board’s decision-making process and had no influence on the size of the payments,” a board statement said.

The total sum of €700,000 includes the victims’ legal and therapy costs.

The organization representing the Ettal abuse victims welcomed the compensation payments and praised the Benedictine monks for showing the “courage and honesty” to deal with the claims and face the school’s dark history.

The organization also said the average compensation payment for Ettal victims – of €10,000 – doubled the average for Church abuse victims in Germany.

But the German Catholic Church still falls short of the payments handed out in other countries.

The Irish Church has paid out an average of €68,000 to each abuse victim, an organization statement said.

The organization also pointed out that the Pope’s visit to Germany will cost the Catholic Church €1 per member, while its compensation model for abuse victims – determined by the German Bishops’ Conference – cost the church €0.15 per member.

The monastery’s Abbot Barnabas Bögle and the head of the school Maurus Kraß both resigned in the wake of the scandal in February 2010, following pressure from Archbishop of Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

But the Benedictine monks re-elected Bögle later in the year after the Vatican declared there was nothing standing in the way of his return to office. Kraß was also reinstated by the Bavarian Education Ministry later.

At the time, both admitted that regulations on reporting accusations of abuse had not been followed, but a Vatican committee came to the conclusion that the former leaders of the abbey had done nothing wrong regarding the abuse scandal.

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Report: Kansas City diocese ‘jeopardized safety of children’

A study commissioned by the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese of its handling of sexual misconduct cases found that “individuals in positions of authority reacted to events in ways that could have jeopardized the safety of children in diocesan parishes, school, and families.”

Hiring former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to investigate how the diocese handles cases of sexual misconduct was part of Bishop Robert Finn’s response to questions that he had mishandled the case of Fr. Shawn Ratigan, a local pastor arrested in May for possession of child pornography.

The Graves report states that Finn, who first became aware of concerns about Ratigan in December, “had not determined a ‘breaking point’ at which he would remove Fr. Ratigan from ministry or take other more serious action.”

Ratigan is in jail on charges filed in Clay County, Mo. A federal grand jury charged him in August with 13 counts of production, attempted production and possession of child pornography.

Among the findings in the 138-page report, which is available online, are:
Diocesan leaders, as previously reported in the media, did not inform the diocesan review board of allegations;
Responsibility for the investigation of sexual misconduct fell to one office, that of the vicar general;
Finn took Ratigan at his word that he would abide by restrictions on his association with children.
Taken together, the report states, findings indicate that “Diocesan leaders failed to follow their own policies and procedures” for responding to reports of sexual misconduct.

The report appears to place most blame on the current vicar general of the diocese, Msgr. Robert Murphy, who was previously the point person in the diocese for investigating claims of sexual misconduct and was also a member of the diocesan review board.

Murphy, the report states, “served as a gatekeeper” and had “no one to second guess his judgments.”

Murphy was relieved of his responsibility in cases of sexual misconduct by clergy in June, but remains vicar general of the diocese.

Ratigan served as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City until December. The parish is in Clay County.

For the most part, today’s report seems to affirm the sequence of events already reported by diocesan officials and in the media.

However, the report elaborates on certain aspects of the story, including how a detailed report outlining misconduct by Ratigan was handled by Murphy and Finn.

A year before Ratigan’s arrest, principal Julie Hess of the elementary school attached to St. Patrick Parish hand delivered to Murphy a letter warning that parents and staff members there were concerned about “significant red flags” about Ratigan’s behavior and were worried he “fit the profile of a child predator.”

“Parents, staff members, and parishioners are discussing his actions and whether or not he may be a child molester,” wrote Hess in the May 2010 letter.

As previously reported in the media, the report states that Murphy verbally informed Finn of the letter, but that the bishop did not read it until May 2011.

In the report, Finn states that he “cannot recall” whether he received a written report on the subject from Murphy prior to this May, and can only “specifically recall” three items from Murphy’s verbal report to him on the subject:

That Ratigan had swung children around on the school playground, had let children hug his legs and had let a girl sit on his lap.

Among other descriptions of Ratigan’s behavior in Hess’ letter are instances where the priest had allowed students to “climb on him, grab his leg/s, and reach into his pockets for candy” and a report that, during a Brownie Girl Scout visit to his home, a woman “had found a pair of girls’ panties inside one of the planters in Father’s back yard.”

The letter concludes: “[Staff members] believe that Father spends so much time at school he isn’t able to get other important things done. Father is at school every day for long periods of time. He is usually present at arrival time, during morning prayer, recess, lunch, dismissal, and after school. He also visits the early childhood center most every day.”

Also elaborated upon in today’s report is the process by which Finn dealt with instances of Ratigan visiting children after he had been removed from his parish.

After receiving out-of-state treatment for a December suicide attempt, Ratigan was assigned by Finn to live with a group of Vincentian priests in a home located near a prayer center run by a group of Franciscan sisters.

As previously reported, today’s report states that, when moving Ratigan, Finn gave the priest instructions to not attend or participate in events where children were present, to not have access to a computer, and to only use cameras in “limited circumstances.”

However, the report states, there was no supervision given to Ratigan to ensure those instructions were followed.

In a sub-section titled “A Flag of the Reddest Color,” the report states that Ratigan attended several functions where children were present in March, including a popular local parade.

News of Ratigan’s visit with children, the report states, caused Msgr. Brad Offutt, the chancellor of the diocese, to e-mail Finn April 8 expressing concern.

“I am not sure what the options are for addressing this, but plainly something needs to be done to limit Diocesan liability and protect children,” wrote Offutt. “[Ratigan’s] recent behavior relative to children and on the computer are a flag of the reddest color”

During a conversation the same day with Ratigan, the report states, Finn admonished the priest, again, that he was not to have contact with children.

Ratigan, the report states, heard confessions from minors April 11 and “grew bolder” by attending a high school track meet May 7 and accessing the guest computers at the Vincentian home.

Finn, the report states, said in an interview for the investigation that he “had not formulated a plan” to address Ratigan’s behavior.

“Although he was considering assigning Fr. Ratigan to the Archives Department of the Chancery, where he would not have contact with children, Bishop Finn had not determined a ‘breaking point’ at which he would remove Fr. Ratigan from ministry or take other more serious remedial action,” the report states.

The report outlines five recommendations for the diocese, including:
Asking all diocesan employees and volunteers to report abuse to the police;
Notifying a diocesan ombudsman of current and past abuse;
Ensuring that the diocesan review board be notified of all allegations of abuse.
The diocese previously announced June 30 the appointment of an ombudsman and public liaison officer tasked with receiving and investigating cases of sexual misconduct.

In a statement to press, Graves indicated he thought the diocese would take his recommendations to heart.

“Our investigation identified shortcomings, inaction and confusing procedures, but we believe Bishop Finn and the leadership of the diocese understand the gravity of the issues and take these recommendations seriously,” Graves stated.

In a similar statement, Finn touted the diocese’s appointment of the ombudsman as a sign its seriousness.

“The Graves report affirms the decision to establish and appoint an Ombudsman. Jennifer Valenti, appointed Ombudsman in late June, is an experienced prosecutor and possesses the authority as gatekeeper to receive and investigate, independently, any complaint involving the sexual abuse of minors,” Finn stated.

A statement from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests was more skeptical.

“Lawyers still act like adding some phrases to the official diocesan procedure manual will make some kind of difference,” SNAP’s outreach director Barbara Dorris wrote.

“It won’t. Only vigorous action by police and prosecutors will make kids safer in the KC diocese.”

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Survivor dismisses Vatican response

A prominent clerical abuse survivor has dismissed the Vatican’s response to claims that it tried to frustrate a clerical child abuse inquiry as another attempt to absolve itself of responsibility.

Andrew Madden urged the Government to press-ahead with tough new reporting guidelines without undue or unnecessary exceptions.

Mr Madden said: “The gimlet eye of the canon lawyer has been busy in the Vatican as publication of the Holy See’s response to the Irish Government regarding the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne reveals every effort to continue to find ways for the Holy See to absolve itself of any responsibility for the cover up of the sexual abuse of children by priests for decades from one side of the world to the other.”

Support group One in Four accused the Vatican of not accepting responsibility for a culture which facilitated child abuse.

Maeve Lewis, executive director, said they were disappointed by the Holy See’s response, branding it an exercise in self-justification.

“The Church is accepting no responsibility for the prevailing culture which facilitated the sexual abuse of children and instead the Vatican is presenting itself as a body which has been misunderstood and misinterpreted,” Ms Lewis said.

Mr Madden said the statement’s reference to the absence of statutory mandatory reporting in Ireland does not excuse the lengths Bishops went to conceal child sexual abuse. “Nor does it excuse the way Catholic Bishops misled people into thinking they were implementing child protection guidelines when clearly they were not.”

But All Ireland primate Cardinal Sean Brady welcomed the response, and claimed it conveyed the Holy See’s profound abhorrence for the abuse, and sorrow and shame for victims’ sufferings.

“I believe the response has been carefully prepared and respectfully presented,” Cardinal Brady said.

“The time taken to prepare the reply, and its content, indicates the commitment on the part of the Holy See to deal with this matter earnestly, fairly and sensitively. It shows an appreciation of the seriousness of the questions raised and of the importance, especially for survivors of abuse, of effectively combating this crime.”

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