A group representing victims of sexual abuse by priests says it is suing Pope Benedict and other top Vatican officials through the International Criminal Court [ICC] in The Hague for crimes against humanity.
The U.S.-based human rights group Center for Constitutional Rights says it it filing the suit on behalf of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests [SNAP]. The lawsuit alleges that the Roman Catholic Church has maintained a "longstanding and pervasive system of sexual violence."
It also contends that while vowing to swiftly oust predators from the church, Vatican officials tolerated and enabled the systematic and widespread concealment of rape and child sex crimes.
The Vatican has made no immediate comment.
Victims from countries around the world, including the United States, Germany, Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands, have come forward with reports of abuse by priests. Many victims accompanied the human rights lawyers to The Hague to urge prosecutors to investigate.
Reports of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy began surfacing about nine years ago in the United States and later in Europe. Victims say the church paid little attention to decades of priests' sexual and physical abuse of children, and tried to protect the guilty.
The church has paid millions of dollars to settle some of the claims of sexual abuse in the United States. Roman Catholic officials have said the church is working with the proper authorities to investigate and prevent abuse.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.