NPR Boosts Suit at World Court Charging Vatican With 'Crimes Against Humanity'

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli filed a completely one-sided report on Wednesday's All Things Considered about a radical-left organization, along with a group purporting to represent victims of clergy sexual abuse, lobbying the International Criminal Court to investigate the top leadership of the Catholic Church, including Pope Benedict XVI, for "crimes against humanity." Poggioli played sound bites only from those involved with the effort, and none from anyone sympathetic with the Church.

Host Melissa Block stated in her introduction that "the International Criminal Court in The Hague has dealt with plenty of war criminals and warlords, but it may soon have a different target: the Catholic Church. The tribunal is being asked to investigate top Vatican officials over the global clerical sex abuse scandal....the argument is that the sex offenses meet the legal definition of crimes against humanity, and should be prosecuted."

Poggioli first highlighted that "Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly apologized for crimes committed by priests," but continued that "the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests, also known as SNAP, and the human rights legal advocacy Center for Constitutional Rights, say the Vatican has yet to implement a policy to crack down on abusive priests and cooperate with law enforcement. They're delivering more than 20,000 pages of documentation from all over the world to the International Criminal Court, the ICC."
                                   
Note that the correspondent merely labeled the CCR a "human right legal advocacy" organization, and omitted an ideological label. The CCR was founded by William Kunstler, who led the ACLU from 1964 until 1972, and represented numerous radical clients from the 60s until his death in 1995, including members of the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, and the American Indian Movement. Kunstler described himself as a "radical lawyer," and shortly before his death, even represented the "blind sheikh" who inspired the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. After he died, the CCR has spent the last decade, among other things, representing Guantanamo Bay terror suspects.

Poggioli then played her first sound bite from CCR attorney Pam Spees, noting beforehand that the lawyer "says the evidence shows that crimes of clerical sex abuse constitute a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population." The NPR journalist followed this with a clip from David Clohessy of SNAP, who made the following claim:

DAVID CLOHESSY: The systematic rape of children on a global basis, day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, in this massive institution, where there are virtually no checks and balances- we honestly believe that that is every bit as heinous and needs to be exposed and stopped as crimes of an individual military general who abuses the power of his troops and his weaponry

NewsBusters's Dave Pierre actually revealed a damning anecdote against Clohessy himself with regards to clerical sexual abuse. The SNAP director actually had a chance to stop his own brother, Fr. Kevin Clohessy, who was a suspected child abuser in the early 1990s, but did nothing to stop him. Pierre also pointed that in 2007, SNAP only spent $593 to "survivor support, " when they tout that their "primary purpose is to provide support for men & women who have been sexually victimized by members of the clergy." Of course, none of these details turned up in the NPR report.

Later in her report, Poggioli highlighted Spees's "individual responsibility" allegation against Pope Benedict XVI, stating that "the current Pope was [previously] head of the Vatican office handling clerical sex abuse cases." She then played a second clip from the CCR attorney, who claimed that "over periods of years, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger [was] either refusing to defrock offending priests- even when the bishops are telling him over and over again this harm is being done, there's more risk of harm- and he's leaving them there, or he's moving them."

These claims are misleading. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger actually didn't have responsibility for dealing with priestly sex abuse cases until 2001, when the jurisdiction was transferred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The cardinal would become pope just four years later in 2005.

This isn't the first time that Poggioli has filed a slanted report on the Catholic Church. The Rome-based NPR correspondent contended, just before the late pope was beatified in May 2011, that John Paul II's "orthodoxy alienated many Catholics who began leaving the church in droves."

The full transcript of Sylvia Poggioli's report from Wednesday's All Things Considered:

MELISSA BLOCK: The International Criminal Court in The Hague has dealt with plenty of war criminals and warlords, but it may soon have a different target: the Catholic Church. The tribunal is being asked to investigate top Vatican officials over the global clerical sex abuse scandal.

As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome, the argument is that the sex offenses meet the legal definition of crimes against humanity, and should be prosecuted.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly apologized for crimes committed by priests. But the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests, also known as SNAP, and the human rights legal advocacy Center for Constitutional Rights, say the Vatican has yet to implement a policy to crack down on abusive priests and cooperate with law enforcement. They're delivering more than 20,000 pages of documentation from all over the world to the International Criminal Court, the ICC.

Attorney Pam Spees says the evidence shows that crimes of clerical sex abuse constitute a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.

PAM SPEES: And what we're saying is that the crimes of sexual violence within the church context are widespread, certainly, but they're also being committed on a systematic basis, in the sense that it is the policies and practices of the Church and Church leadership, which allow these things to continue.

POGGIOLI: SNAP's David Clohessy says these crimes, which follow the same pattern throughout the world, can't be effectively addressed piecemeal by prosecutors in individual countries, but require the scrutiny of an international institution.


DAVID CLOHESSY: The systematic rape of children on a global basis, day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, in this massive institution, where there are virtually no checks and balances- we honestly believe that that is every bit as heinous and needs to be exposed and stopped as crimes of an individual military general who abuses the power of his troops and his weaponry.

POGGIOLI: The complaint cites two liability theories: superior responsibility, where persons in positions of authority can be found liable for the actions of others, if they knew or had reason to know about and failed to prevent the prevent the crimes, or failed to turn the matter over to civil authorities; and individual responsibility- for example, attorney Spees says when the current Pope was head of the Vatican office handling clerical sex abuse cases.

SPEES: You see over periods of years, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger either refusing to defrock offending priests- even when the bishops are telling him over and over again this harm is being done, there's more risk of harm- and he's leaving them there, or he's moving them.

POGGIOLI: Clohessy says psychologists and experts believe not more than 15 percent of men and women who were sexually abused as children ever speaks out, and an even smaller percentage takes legal action.

CLOHESSY: In virtually every country, what has come to light about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups in the Catholic Church is dwarfed-  dramatically dwarfed- by the secrets that remain hidden, and that's why we think that an investigation is really, really crucial.

POGGIOLI: The Vatican has not reacted so far, and the ICC has not said whether it will take up the case. But Clohessy is convinced that by putting the international spotlight on top officials of the Catholic Church, other victims in Europe and across the world, who have remained silent, will find the courage and strength to speak out- thereby also helping to protect children who are vulnerable right now. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center