USA/FILE: Sex abuse victims want Pope Benedict to appear at ICC for crimes against humanity
USA/FILE: Sex abuse victims want Pope Benedict to appear at ICC for crimes against humanity
- Title: USA/FILE: Sex abuse victims want Pope Benedict to appear at ICC for crimes against humanity
- Date: 22nd February 2013
- Summary: NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (RECENT) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) 23-YEAR-OLD MEGAN PETERSEN, ABUSED AT THE AGES OF 14 AND 15 BY A CATHOLIC PRIEST, SAYING: "I know at one point they recommended that he would be defrocked but the bishop in India refused that. That's not any serious action, I mean, they did nothing."
- Embargoed: 9th March 2013 12:00
- Location: Australia, Usa
- Country: USA
- Topics: Religion
- Reuters ID: LVACH27MHU6GNVZMLD3AM9RN3HX8
- Story Text: As Pope Benedict XVI prepares to step down, the Catholic Church abuse scandal remains unresolved and continues to haunt the papacy. U.S. sex abuse victims talk about their hopes that a case will be brought in front of the International Criminal Court.
Twenty-three-year old Megan Petersen has mixed feelings about the imminent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
Megan is one of the tens of thousands of people who allege sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests across the globe.
As a child, Megan, a devout Catholic, attended church in the diocese of Crookston, Minnesota. Every morning before school she would stop by her local church to pray in the hopes of one day becoming a nun. One morning, in 2004, when she was 14 years old, Megan says everything changed.
"I was walking back to the school one day and he stopped me from across the street and asked me if he could speak to me. I was reading a book. So he came up and was discussing the book."
The man in Megan's story is Father Joseph Pavanivel Jeyapaul, who came from India in 2004 to preach at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenbush, Minnesota - a small town near the Canadian border.
"(He) said that he had a book for me in his office so I went to the office with himand he was very aggressive and very violent. I was raped that day by him."
"That continued for I think it was around 10 months."
In 2005, after being accused of sexual misconduct by another girl -- a 16-year-old -- Father Jeyapaul suddenly left Minnesota and returned to India where he said he needed to attend to his ailing mother.
Jeyapaul has yet to return to the United States.
Megan has fought for years to have him extradited and tried in the United States.
"I know at one point they recommended that he would be defrocked but the bishop in India refused that. That's not any serious action, I mean, they did nothing," Megan explained.
Speaking from outside his Indian diocese in Ootacamund in Tamil Nadu, in early April 2010, Jeyapaul professed his innocence.
"It is a false accusation against me. I am not guilty, I am innocent. And I am ready to prove myself."
In March of 2012, after exhaustive attempts by Megan and her legal team to have him defrocked and removed from his new diocese in India where he continued to work at a Catholic school and interact with children, Jeyapaul was arrested by Indian authorities and now remains behind bars until a decision is reached over his extradition.
The growing child sex abuse scandals have cast a shadow over the Catholic Church and also over the pope himself.
Victims groups have said Pope Benedict, particularly in his previous job at the head of the Vatican's doctrinal department, turned a blind eye to the overall policies of local churches, which moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them and handing them over to authorities.
The Vatican has consistently denied this.
The pope has also apologized for abuse in the Church, has met with abuse victims on many of his trips, and ordered a major investigation into abuse in Ireland.
But groups representing some of the victims say the Pope will leave office with a stain on his legacy because he was in positions of power in the Vatican for more than three decades, first as a cardinal and then as pope, and should have done more.
Mary Caplan, also a victim of abuse, and now a leading member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in New York, says that in her eyes Pope Benedict is ultimately responsible.
"The Church, the hierarchy, is the only institution where someone is accused of rape and phone calls are made and they know they will be protected. Their names will be changed, they'll be sent to other countries, and so you have a raped 16-year-old girl and you have this powerful institution that will protect rapists."
And now Megan, Mary and hundreds of others are seeking legal action at the highest level. They're taking their case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and are seeking to prosecute those at the very top.
Pamela Spees, one of the senior attorneys in the international human rights program a the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), is leading the legal charge.
"In September of 2011 we brought a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC), asking the prosecutor of the ICC to investigate and consider prosecuting Joseph Ratzinger and three other high level Vatican officials for their role in essentially the Vatican policy and practice that essentially facilitates the widespread and systematic rape and sexual violence within the Church, as crimes against humanity," Spees explains.
But some Vatican officials recently disclosed, under condition of anonymity, that Pope Benedict's decision to live in the Vatican after he resigns would provide him with security and privacy, and would also offer legal protection from any attempt to prosecute him in connection with sexual abuse cases around the world.
In 2010 Benedict was named as a defendant in a law suit alleging that he failed to take action as a cardinal in 1995 when he was allegedly told about a priest who had abused boys at a U.S. school for the deaf decades earlier.
Now a documentary film has been released recounting the tales of four of the boys from that Milwaukee, Wisconsin school.
"Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God", released by HBO, tells the story of four deaf boys who were allegedly abused over the course of many years by the same priest.
The lawyers withdrew the case last year and the Vatican said it was a major victory that proved the pope could not be held liable for the actions of abusive priests.
Though there have been repeated calls for Benedict's arrest over sexual abuse within his Church, he is currently not named specifically in any other case.
Spees hopes that with her request for an ICC investigation this may change.
"It's not just inaction. That's the other thing that we have to make very clear. It's not just that they're not doing anything. They're doing plenty. And what they're doing is actually facilitating and enabling the problem. And what I mean by that is, you know, it comes from Rome down, right?You don't have cases where the Vatican, the Pope, comes down hard on a bishop or a cardinal for shielding or sheltering a priest. In fact what some of the evidence we presented to the court shows that bishops and cardinals are often being applauded for their role in protecting priests within their diocese and those who have been caught up in scandal, like Cardinal Law here in the U.S., who had to resign from the Boston archdiocese, is then rewarded with a prime position in Rome," Spees said.
Last month, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, was stripped by his successor of all public and administrative duties after a thousands of pages of files detailing abuse in the 1980s were made public.
The documents show that Mahony had sent accused abusers out of state to avoid justice.
Mahony, who was archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 until 2011, has apologized for "mistakes" he made as archbishop, saying he had not been equipped to deal with the problem of sexual misconduct involving children.
In 2007, the Los Angeles archdiocese, which serves four million Catholics, reached a $660 million civil settlement with more than 500 victims of child molestation, the biggest agreement of its kind in the United States.
American and Italian Catholics have called for Mahony not to take part in electing a new pope, saying he would taint the new pontiff with the same scandal that has dogged Benedict.
Sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church began coming to light in the 1980s and became a major crisis in 2002, when U.S. media began reporting systematic cover-ups for abusive priests.
Ireland, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have grappled with similar scandals after official or Church-led reports exposed abuse in schools and Church organisations.
Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law resigned after scandals were exposed there but was named to a prestigious Church post in Rome.
And on Wednesday (February 21) New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan was questioned in a legal deposition about cases of alleged sexual abuse by priests while he was the head of the archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Dolan was deposed in New York for three hours by attorneys representing more than 500 people who claim they were sexually abused by clergy at the Milwaukee archdiocese, which Dolan headed from 2002 to 2009.
Dolan will be among the cardinals to take part in the conclave to select Benedict's successor.
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