Culture & Religion
June Tue 25, 2013
The 31 May decision by the International Criminal Court to reject a case accusing the Holy See of human rights abuses, made public by the complainants on 13 June, was as predictable as it is welcome. Two American organisations, the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), had submitted a complaint to the Hague-based court in September 2011, claiming that then-Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Francis Levada, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone were guilty of “enabling and concealing sexual violence worldwide”. This complaint followed in the wake of arguments by people such as Geoffrey Robertson, author of the 2010 book The Case of the Pope, holding that then-Pope Benedict should be tried for these alleged crimes. Even without getting into the substance of the CCR and SNAP complaint, it was always obvious that the ICC would reject their case on procedural grounds alone, as CV Comment pointed out in February. The complaint related primarily to matters before 2002 when the ICC was set up; yet the ICC cannot try crimes that took place before it was established, as its authority is not retrospective. More importantly, the ICC regards people as culpable for crimes against humanity only if those crimes constitute a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population with the knowledge of the accused. Even those who believe, despite the evidence, that the Pope directed bishops to conceal abuse, do not claim that he directed priests actually to commit abuse. The ICC has, as expected, rejected the case on several grounds including these issues of “temporal jurisdiction” and “subject-matter jurisdiction”. Noting that the Rome Statute limits the court to exercising jurisdiction over crimes committed since the court’s establishment in July 2002, and that the Court’s remit is limited to “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole,” specifically genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity, the Court concluded that that “the matters described in your communication do not appear to fall within the jurisdiction of the Court.” Jeffrey Lena, the Holy See’s legal advisor, was right to describe the complaint as “a ludicrous publicity stunt” and “a misuse of international judicial processes,” and it is difficult to see how such a waste of the Court’s time can have been justified. SNAP president Barbara Blaine says she was pleased that the Court didn’t say that Pope Benedict and the named Curia officials were “somehow immune from prosecution.” But the issue of immunity has always been a red herring; the ICC was never asked even to consider it. Had these procedural hurdles somehow been overcome, however, the CCR-SNAP complaint would then have had to face the fact that despite thousands of pages of documents, there is no reason beyond prejudice to believe the Pope and his colleagues in the Curia had been guilty of the crimes of which they were accused.
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