Daily Archives: September 14, 2011

Hague court urged to investigate Pope over child sex abuse

Reuters | Sep 13, 2011

By Aaron Gray-Block

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Victims of sexual abuse by the clergy want the International Criminal Court to investigate Pope Benedict and three Vatican officials, accusing them of allowing the rape and abuse of children.

The New York-based rights group Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and another group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), filed a complaint with the ICC alleging that Vatican officials committed crimes against humanity because they tolerated and enabled sex crimes.

But it seems unlikely that the ICC, the world’s first permanent war crimes court, could take on such a case.

Many of the crimes occurred before 2002, when the ICC was set up, which puts them outside the court’s remit, while the Vatican itself has not signed up to the court’s jurisdiction.

“It will be very difficult to make an argument that the Church as an organized group committed a crime against humanity and it would be debatable whether that was based on a common plan,” said Andre de Hoogh, a senior lecturer in international law at Groningen University.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by a series of sexual abuse scandals and allegations of cover-up in Europe and the United States in recent years.

But this is the first time the sexual abuse scandal has been brought to an international jurisdiction, marking a new approach by victims and rights groups.

Victim support groups, which usually target church officials with their lawsuits, have increasingly sought to implicate the Vatican in their legal action.

In its filing with the ICC on Tuesday, rights group CCR alleged that sex abuse crimes were “widespread and systematic.”

“Crimes against tens of 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,” CCR lawyer Pam Spees said.

A Vatican spokesman said there would be no immediate comment.

“The Office of the Prosecutor has received the documents,” spokeswoman Florence Olara said, adding the prosecutor’s office “will analyze … and make a decision in due course.”

EVIDENCE

While the Vatican has not signed up to the ICC, countries such as Italy, the Netherlands and Germany have done so, which means that their citizens are subject to ICC jurisdiction.

Pope Benedict is German-born and because a pope retains his nationality when he also takes on Vatican nationality this could potentially expose him to ICC prosecution.

“It is a very slim avenue, but it’s an avenue nonetheless,” said Lorraine Smith at the International Bar Association, which monitors the ICC. “But there is still the issue of the timing of the offences.”

Alongside a filing of more than 80 pages, CCR said it had lodged more than 20,000 pages of supporting material including reports, policy papers and evidence of crimes by Catholic clergy committed against children and vulnerable adults.

SNAP members from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States travelled to The Hague to file the request.

It names Pope Benedict, former Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, current Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone and Cardinal William Levada, the top doctrinal official.

Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn publicly accused Sodano last year of blocking a Church inquiry into his predecessor, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who stepped down in 1995 after being accused of sexually abusing young student priests.

The ICC has investigated crimes including genocide, murder, conscription of child soldiers and rape, mostly in Africa. In June, it issued an arrest warrant for Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

The prosecutor’s office has received more than 9,000 requests for investigations, but has said almost half of them were “manifestly outside” its jurisdiction.

In June, Syrian human rights groups called on the court to investigate the killing of civilians in Syria, but the court lacks jurisdiction there because Syria is not an ICC member.

The Rome Statute that set up the court also stipulates that the ICC should be used as a court of last resort only if national proceedings are not taking place.

The prosecutor must first seek approval from ICC judges before formally opening an investigation.

Child sex abuse claims mount against the Boy Scouts

Reuters | Sep 13, 2011

By Dan Cook and Laura Zuckerman

Steven Terry Hill in an undated photo released by the Oregon State Police. Credit: Reuters/Oregon State Police

PORTLAND, Ore/SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) – Four Oregon men sued the Boy Scouts of America on Tuesday for $20 million over childhood sexual abuse they say they suffered at the hands of a pedophile knowingly appointed as their scoutmaster in the 1970s.

The four lawsuits, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland, accuse the national Boy Scouts and its Cascade Pacific Council of negligence, fraud and sexual battery of a child in connection with the repeated molestation of the men, then aged 12 to 15.

The suits, each seeking $5.2 million in damages, are the latest in a barrage of such claims facing the Boy Scouts, headquartered in Texas, since the group was found liable and ordered to pay nearly $20 million last year for a pedophile case from the 1980s.

A separate case was filed against the Boy Scouts last week by five women who say they were sexually abused as girls by the leader of a coed Scouting program in Montana during the 1970s.

The latest cases bring to at least 35 the number of individuals who have lodged child sexual abuse claims against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in 11 states since 2007, said plaintiffs attorney Kelly Clark, whose Portland firm has spearheaded the legal action.

BSA officials say various sexual abuse allegations involve a small fraction of the 1.1 million adults who volunteer for the nonprofit organization, which last year reported cash and other assets in excess of $1 billion.

The group cites new safeguards instituted during the past decade, including tighter screening of volunteers, though it acknowledges that criminal background checks for existing volunteers only became mandatory in 2008.

“Youth protection is part of the DNA of our program,” said Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boys Scouts of America, adding that while the group is “proud of the program and volunteers, even one incident of abuse is too many.”

But the lawsuit claims the BSA was aware since the 1960s that “scouting posed a danger to adolescent boys because historically noticeable numbers of adult volunteers … were discovered to be child molesters.”

As in the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church, whose hierarchy is accused of covering up misconduct by wayward priests, Tuesday’s suits claim the BSA “concealed the problem of child molestation by Scout leaders.”

The mounting litigation has tarnished the wholesome image a 100-year-old largely volunteer organization that prides itself on building good character, citizenship and personal fitness among the 2.7 million youth — mostly boys aged 8 to 17 — who are its members.

“Like the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts have been exposing children to sexual predators for decades,” said Grier Weeks, head of the child abuse prevention lobby PROTECT.

“In the process, they’ve also exposed themselves to enormous financial liability,” he told Reuters. “The question is, which did they care more about? If it was boys, there will be a long, clear trail of aggressive attempts to protect. If it was themselves, there will be a trail of silence.”

PRIESTS VS. SCOUTMASTERS

Clark cited some key differences between the Catholic church and the BSA, which he said was essentially targeted by outside pedophiles seeking easy access to boys.

“You don’t have to be trained or anything. You just show up and raise your hand and swear and you’re a volunteer,” he said. “So while the percent of volunteers in the Boy Scouts who were abusers is, we believe, much smaller, the numbers are relatively large, and the number of victims could be the same or worse (than in the Catholic church).”

Last year’s trial shed light on records the BSA kept on suspected or confirmed sexual abuse by leaders and volunteers. The jury was permitted to review 20,000 pages from what were termed the “perversion files” or “ineligible volunteer files,” dating from 1965 to 1985, before rendering a verdict.

Those files show that during the 20-year period, an average of nearly 60 leaders or volunteers a year were discovered molesting children, Clark said.

The Boy Scouts dispute that figure, and the organization is fighting to keep those documents from being made public in a case awaiting a ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court.

The four new plaintiffs claim they were abused in the 1970s by then-scoutmaster Steven Terry Hill, who was put in charge of their troop even though the Boy Scouts learned he had been accused of molesting three other boys while serving as a scout leader in California.

Hill was acquitted in the late 1970s of sex abuse charges related to the Boy Scouts in Portland. But he was convicted in 1991 on four counts of sodomy and furnishing drugs and alcohol to a minor stemming from an unrelated sex-abuse case involving a 17-year-old boy. He was released from prison in April after serving about 20 years, Clark said.

A deposition Hill gave while incarcerated, and other corroborating evidence, suggests that the California Scouts council arranged for him to be transferred to Portland where, in 1976, he founded Troop 76, an elite group of 76 scouts whose mission was “high adventure” activities like river rafting and mountain climbing, Clark said.

Clark acknowledged no direct evidence that the national BSA knew of Hill’s transfer, but added, “We would argue that the local councils are … agents of the (national) Boy Scouts of America. What an agent knows, the principal knows.”

TSA employees may refrain from touching children


Travelers walk past a Los Angeles Airport police officer at Los Angeles International Airport September 7, 2011. Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn

Children may soon be spared airport patdowns: Napolitano

Reuters | Sep 13, 2011

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Children under 12 may soon be spared pat-downs and taking off their shoes as the U.S. begins to implement new airport security screening procedures, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Tuesday.

“We have been piloting also programs to deal with children under the age of 12 with respect to not only taking off their shoes but also pat-down procedures,” Napolitano told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Tuesday. “And we hope, over the coming weeks and months to be able to begin rolling that out.”

Napolitano testified at the hearing, “Ten Years After 9/11: Are We Safer?” Tuesday morning.

In March 2002, the Transportation Security Administration’s first class of federal screeners numbered 80 individuals, according to Napolitano’s testimony.

Today, 14 million passengers fly to, from and within the United States each week — and 100 percent of them are screened against government watch lists, Napolitano said.

More than 52,000 TSA personnel serve at over 450 U.S. airports.

Thousands of these TSA officers will require additional training to incorporate the shifts in strategy, Napolitano said.

Committee Chairman Senator Joseph Lieberman asked Napolitano about changing security policy at airports, as the TSA moves from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to a “risk-based” strategy.

“There will always be some unpredictability built into the system,” she said. “But I think the traveling public will begin to see some of these changes really in the coming months.”

Napolitano also mentioned the expansion of “Global Entry,” which prescreens passengers for international travel and saw its one-millionth passengers just a few weeks ago.

“That really facilitates going in and out of and crossing borders,” she said.