A Milwaukee-area man is part of a group that is asking the International Criminal Court at the Hague to investigate and prosecute Pope Benedict XVI and three top Vatican officials in connection with the alleged coverup of sexual abuse of children by clergy.
The group, which filed a complaint Tuesday with the court, calls the sexual abuse and subsequent coverup "crimes against humanity." The New York Times reported that the world court would likely discuss whether it has jurisdiction in the matter.
Shorewood's Peter Isely is in the Netherlands with other leaders of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, a human rights organization.
Isely, a therapist, was abused by a priest as a teenager while attending the St. Lawrence Seminary Prep High School near Fond du Lac. A graduate of the Harvard Divinity School and a psychotherapist, Isely is now the Midwest director for SNAP.
"This is a systematic, criminal scandal," Isely said in a prepared statement. "It requires a systematic, criminal remedy.”
"This violence is enabled by a private hierarchy with global reach. The remedy must involve secular prosecutors with global reach," he said.
"That’s why we’re formally asking the ICC prosecutor to investigate and then prosecute even a few of the prelates who are responsible for this continuing crisis."
Isely will be among those who will speak at a press conference at the Hague later today.
The group said it will file an 80-page complaint with the world court on Tuesday. In addition to several Wisconsin cases cited in the complaint, other victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo list priests from Belgium, India and the United States as abusers.
Benedict XVI was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before being elected pope in 2005. That Vatican office hears cases of clergy sex abuse. Last year, the Vatican reacted strongly when SNAP linked the pope to the abuse in connection with a Milwaukee case.
The case involved Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest accused of sexually abusing scores of deaf children at the now-closed St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis. For decades, men abused by Murphy tried to get local church officials to remove him from the priesthood. Instead, he was allowed to continue working as a priest in northern Wisconsin until shortly before his death.
Murphy died in 1998, a short time after the Vatican declined to remove him from the priesthood. He headed the school for the deaf from 1950 to 1974.
Court records show that while it took decades for local officials to act against Murphy, Archbishop Rembert Weakland and other bishops from the state attempted to force Murphy from the priesthood but that the Vatican sided with the priest and allowed him to remain a priest.
Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office that decided the Murphy case. Details came out as the result of a federal lawsuit filed against the church in Milwaukee.
Weakland himself resigned in 2002 after a former male lover went public with their affair; the Archbishop later published a memoir describing the fallout from that revelation and challenging the Catholic church's teaching on homosexuality.
Milwaukee and Wisconsin have been near the forefront of the scandal since it broke in the early 1990s. Earlier this year, the Milwaukee Archdiocese became the eighth in the country to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The archdiocese directly linked the action to sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Those who have been abused by priests have until Feb. 1, 2012 to file a claim with bankruptcy court.
In addition to the pope, three cardinals are expected to be named in the ICC complaint: William Laveda, the highest ranking American in the church who now heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and former secretary of state; and Tarcisio Bertone, the current secretary of state, considered the second most powerful man in the Vatican.
Efforts to reach the Milwaukee archdiocese for comment Tuesday morning were unsuccessful. The New York Times also had no reaction from the Vatican on Tuesday.