Pressure groups lobby for Pope to stand trial

October 11, 2011
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A number of human rights groups in America think they have found an ingenious way of holding the Pope accountable for the huge numbers of priests found to have abused children all round the world, and the Church’s apparent policy of protecting them. Human rights groups in the ‘States have filed a 20,000 page petition with the International Criminal Court for senior Vatican officials to stand trial for the “sustained and systematic” abuse of children and vulnerable adults by priests. They complain that the Vatican dealt with such issues internally within the Church, and failed to report priests suspected of abusing children to law enforcement agencies in the countries in which they operated. It seems that instead, the Church would merely move the suspected priests to different parishes, or even different countries, where they continued to abuse with impunity. Certainly this appears to be what happened in a case I am working on at the moment, concerning a Father Samuel Penney when he was a priest in Warwickshire in the 1970’s.

The statute which established the International Criminal Court designates rape, sexual violence and torture as crimes against humanity. The Vatican is not a signatory (even though it has status within the United Nations as a state), but the treaty applies to all nationals of countries which have signed up. Germany is a signatory and of course Pope Benedict XVI is German. Other officials named by the New York based Centre for Constitutional Rights include Cardinal William Levada who is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in charge of the implementation of Roman Catholic doctrine, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the former and current Vatican secretaries of state. Whilst I doubt the legal action to indict the Pope will ever get off the ground, the move must surely cause acute embarrasment to the Catholic Church and keeps this important issue at the forefront of public attention.

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