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Group seeks to prosecute pope for Roman Catholic sex abuse cases

From left to right: Joelle Casteix, regional director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP),  victims advocate Ken Smolka and former state Senator Martha Escutia discuss the formal complaint filed with the International Criminal Court in The Hague regarding clergy sexual abuse allegations around the world.
From left to right: Joelle Casteix, regional director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), victims advocate Ken Smolka and former state Senator Martha Escutia discuss the formal complaint filed with the International Criminal Court in The Hague regarding clergy sexual abuse allegations around the world.
Corey Moore/KPCC

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An international group of clergy sex abuse victims filed a formal complaint Tuesday with the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The complaint names Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI and several top Vatican officials as defendants. Lawyers argue that for decades, the defendants abetted and hid priests' sex crimes against children.

The group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, filed the complaint. Joelle Casteix is the regional director of the organization and joined other members outside of Los Angeles’ main Roman Catholic cathedral Wednesday where they held photos of themselves as children.

“This is not a publicity stunt," she said. "This is a huge step for justice for children who have been sexually abused by Catholic clergy around the world.”

Casteix said SNAP and the Center for Constitutional Rights spell out in thousands of pages how clergy leaders sexually abused children around the world. She said the complaint focuses on several cases from all over the world, “One involves a priest in the Congo, one involves a priest from the Philippines, a number of priests from the Philippines.”

A case with a Los Angeles victim is also part of the complaint.

The stories behind the filing resonate with 68-year-old Ken Smolka, who choked back tears Tuesday as he recalled the priest who raped him on the campus of his L.A. high school five decades ago. Smolka urged other victims and religious leaders to speak out, saying, “Our scars, you can’t see our scars, so please, look at this and make this church accountable.”

Victims' advocates in about two dozen American cities and at The Hague expressed appreciation that the court recognized the complaint. They see the recognition as a sign their case met the burden of proof that allows them to request an investigation.

Still, it's uncertain whether the International Criminal Court will hear the case. The alleged crimes may not fall within its jurisdiction. Prosecutors are currently trying to determine if the case qualifies.