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Hague 'court of last resort,' SNAP chief says

Filing is topic at UT panel discussion


Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP, speaks at the panel discussion as David Beckwith, left, Benjamin Davis, and Pam Spees listen. Ms. Blaine said her group expects a finding that the Pope and three other high-ranking Vatican officials were responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates.

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It was only after two decades of frustration battling the Catholic Church on behalf of victims of clerical sexual abuse, Barbara Blaine said, that she and SNAP decided to take their case to "a court of last resort": the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands.

Ms. Blaine, a Toledo native and lawyer who is founder and president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, explained the reasoning behind the filing in a panel discussion Monday at the University of Toledo College of Law.

Ultimately, the filing's goals are to prevent more children from being sexually abused by priests and to encourage victims of abuse to step forward and be counted, Ms. Blaine said. After SNAP filed with the court in September, more than 600 people from 65 nations have contacted the victims-advocacy group saying they were abused by priests, she said.

Also participating in Monday's panel discussion, sponsored by the law school and its International Law Society, were Pam Spees, senior staff attorney of the International Human Rights Program, Center for Constitutional Rights, and David Beckwith, executive director of the Needmor Fund. Benjamin Davis, who teaches international law at UT, was moderator.

The International Criminal Court treaty was adopted in 1998 and took effect in 2002, with more than 120 nations now party to it, Ms. Spees said. Although the court's jurisdiction dates to 2002, evidence from prior cases was included in the 22,000 pages of documents filed in support of SNAP's 85-page complaint, seeking to prove that sexual abuse of minors by priests was "systematic and widespread," she said.

A key component of the court treaty is that it "removed immunities for officials or heads of state that normally blocked their prosecution in domestic jurisdictions," Ms. Spees said.

If the evidence warrants, the court has the authority to arrest Pope Benedict XVI and charge him with crimes against humanity, Ms. Spees said. But none of the panelists said he or she expects the Pontiff to be led out of the Vatican in handcuffs, which would require not only legal proof but also political will.

They do expect their complaint to result in proof that the Pope and three other high-ranking Vatican officials -- Cardinals Angelo Sodano, Tarcisio Bertone, and William Levada -- were responsible for crimes committed by people who were under their authority and control and within the court's jurisdiction.

Mr. Beckwith, a community organizer for 40 years, said church officials will be held accountable "only if we tell, and we persist, and we hold them accountable."

The court has jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual violence.

The court's Article 28 states: "The superior either knew, or consciously disregarded information which clearly indicated that the subordinates were committing or about to commit such crimes," and that "the superior failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures within his or her power to prevent or repress their commission or to submit the matter to the competent authorities for investigation and prosecution."

SNAP's complaint contends that Pope Benedict, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prior to his 2005 election to the papacy, "had direct involvement in cases which directly placed other children at risk," Ms. Spees said.

The complaint claims that bishops did not respond on their own to allegations of clerical sexual abuse of minors but followed Vatican policy by shifting abusive priests to other parishes, obstructing justice, destroying evidence, and refusing to cooperate with civil authorities.

Those actions happened "everywhere the church has a presence," Ms. Spees said.

Ms. Blaine said the abuse crisis is far from over, citing a trial now under way in Philadelphia in which a Catholic monsignor is charged with failure to protect children from abuse.

SNAP spent two years preparing its complaint, Ms. Blaine said. There is no timeline for the court to act, and the Vatican is not required to file a response. The court's next significant step is to decide whether to pursue an investigation.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, based in New York, is representing SNAP in the International Criminal Court for no charge, Ms. Blaine said.

Contact David Yonke at: or 419-724-6154.

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