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International Criminal Court rejects request to investigate Vatican officials

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the ICC's decision had been expected (Photo: CNS)

The International Criminal Court has declined a request from victims of clergy sexual abuse to investigate Vatican officials and their responsibility for the abuse of children by Catholic priests around the world.

In a two-page letter dated May 31, the court told the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the victims, that the offences alleged in the survivor’s petition “do not appear to fall within the jurisdiction of the court.”

The request from victims of clergy of sexual abuse was filed in September 2011 and targeted Pope Benedict XVI and other top Vatican officials, saying that they “tolerate and enable the systematic widespread concealing of rape and child sex crimes throughout the world.”

Advocates for abuse victims pledged to continue gathering evidence in anticipation of filing another request with the court based at The Hague. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that the outcome was expected.

“I never doubted this would be the response (of the ICC), given the total groundlessness of the accusation,” Father Lombardi said.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which sought the investigation, said in a statement: “We are confident that the ICC will see sufficient evidence that high ranking Catholic officials are still knowingly enabling predators to harm and endanger children across the world, while concealing these heinous crimes even more effectively.”

She added that the organisation will continue to work to hold the church responsible for how it handled reports of abuse.

Abuse victims asked the court to consider filing charges of “crimes against humanity” against Pope Benedict XVI, both as Pope and as the previous prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Others named in the filing were Cardinal Anglo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and former Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state and former secretary of the doctrinal congregation; and Cardinal William J Levada, who was prefect of the congregation at the time.