The Hague: Two groups have jointly asked the International Criminal Court at The Hague to investigate and prosecute Pope Benedict XVI and three top Vatican officials for "concealing of rape and child sex crimes throughout the world".
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and lawyers from human rights group the Center for Constitutional Rights have submitted to the court an 80-page complaint and more than 20,000 pages of supporting material to back up their case, the groups said on Tuesday.
"Crimes against thousands of victims, most of them children, are being covered up by officials at the highest level of the Vatican. In this case, all roads really do lead to Rome," said attorney Pam Spees in a statement.
The complaint names Pope Benedict in his current job as pontiff, as well as in the capacity of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he led the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- the watchdog responsible for tackling sexual abuse by priests.
Pope Benedict led the congregation for around 25 years starting 1981.
Also named are the former and current Vatican secretaries of state, Angelo Sodano, who held the office from 1991 to 2006, Tarcisio Bertone, who was appointed Sodano`s successor in 2006, and former archbishop of San Francisco, Cardinal William Levada who was appointed by Pope Benedict to succeed him as Vatican Congregation prefect.
According to the New York Times, lawyers familiar with the international court said it was unlikely that the case would fit into the court`s mandate of going after war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
But even an examination of the issue by the prosecution office would serve the plaintiffs` goal of getting international attention to the case.
The Vatican has not commented on the case.
Hundreds of cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have come to light in US and in several European countries including Austria, Germany, Italy and Belgium. Pope Benedict issued an apology in March 2010.