In September, victims of sexual abuse “upped the ante,” making a serious move to expose and prevent clergy sex crimes and cover-ups at the global level.
How? SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (of which I am a member), filed a more than 80-page complaint (with 20,000 pages of documentation) with the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The goal? Prevent future sexual violence and to hold Vatican officials responsible for the rape of hundreds of thousands of children by Catholic clerics.
Many applauded. But it didn’t take long before our actions were trashed by critics, who have tossed around four principal objections that lack factual basis.
Here are four myths about SNAP’s ICC complaint:
- The crimes are best brought before local courts. Sadly, that’s impossible and cannot achieve our goal. Too many victims are mired in shame and self-blame; too many predator priests are cunning and powerful; too few police have the resources to act; and too few prosecutors have the will or power to act effectively. There are many local prosecutors who have done tremendous work for victims, but they simply do not have the jurisdiction to hold every responsible party accountable for their crimes.
- Many of the clergy crimes happened before the ICC was created in 2002. That’s true, but that does not mean that the crimes have stopped. Victims’ accounts, grand jury reports, legal documents, history, psychology and common sense convince us that hundreds of priests, bishops, nuns, seminarians and other church workers are sexually assaulting innocent kids and vulnerable adults right now. An ICC investigation, we are convinced, would document these on-going crimes (much like US grand jury probes and Irish government inquires have done with other recent clerical wrongdoing.). California alone has shown us that the crimes and the cover-up have continued to this day, despite church “reforms.”
- The church is “decentralized” so the abuse and cover up aren’t really orchestrated by the Vatican. That claim contradicts the obvious, military-like, top-down church structure as well as centuries of church practice. To cite some examples: the Vatican swiftly punishes and excommunicates theologians who deviate from official church teaching or priests who advocate for women’s ordination. Priests and bishops take vows to obey and protect the mother church. Certain papal edicts are considered infallible. The pope and bishops have the theological right to deny “wrongdoers” access to the sacraments, and therefore, heaven. Only the Vatican can appoint bishops, allow bishops to retire, defrock priests, and approve major financial decisions in dioceses worldwide. The Code of Canon Law is the centralized legal system of the faith that (many in the church believe) trumps civil law. If that’s not centralized power, I don’t know what is.
- The ICC only deals with overt, brutal killings by rogues during wars. But that’s simply not true. It’s designed to address violence that is “widespread” and “systematic.” Its jurisdiction covers open slaughter by public officials and hidden violence by private employees. It covers those who explicitly order underlings — or quietly but consistently enable them — to rape and torture the powerless. The court can’t pursue only politically safe and unpopular dictators, while ignoring more popular rulers when both contribute to and cause massive suffering.
Historical, systemic and ground-breaking change can only happen through bold and brave measures. People like Martin Luther, Rosa Parks and the students in Tiananmen Square defied convention, risked their lives and stood up for justice. Our move is not as bold or as risky as theirs, but our drive to protect children and seek justice is just as strong. We don’t see to destroy the Catholic faith – in fact, many of our members are faithful Catholics who are just as disgusted as we are with the abuse and cover-up. Our beef is with the men and women who have twisted the Catholic faith to allow our most precious resource — our children — to be led like lambs to slaughter. I think that even Jesus would be hard pressed to find anything wrong with that.