THE International Criminal Court has been asked to investigate Pope Benedict and three cardinals for alleged crimes against humanity by sheltering clergymen who are guilty of sexually abusing children.
Ten alleged victims and lawyers from the Centre for Constitutional Rights, a New York non-profit group, arrived at The Hague yesterday to file a detailed complaint against the Pope and Vatican officials, accusing them of maintaining a "long-standing and pervasive system of sexual violence".
The complaint names the Pope in part for his former role as leader of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was responsible for overseeing abuse cases.
Cardinal William Levada, who now holds that position, is also named, along with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, and his predecessor, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
Pam Spees, an attorney for the New York group, said that the men were "responsible for rape and other sexual violence and for the physicaland psychological torture of victims around the world both through command responsibility and direct cover up of crimes".
"They should be brought to trial, like any other officials guilty of crimes against humanity," she said.
The Vatican said it had no immediate comment on the complaint, and has in the past maintained that direct responsibility over priests accused of child abuse is held by bishops, rather than by officials at the top of the Church hierarchy.
It is unclear whether the International Criminal Court would have the jurisdiction over the Holy See, which is not a member state of the court.