Survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have asked the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate the pope for allowing the rape and abuse of children.
Two groups based in New York filed a complaint alleging the pontiff and three other cardinals committed crimes against humanity because they tolerated the abuse and enabled it to take place.
Cover-up scandals have shocked Europe and the US in recent years.
Pam Spees who is a senior lawyer for one of the groups, the Center for Constitutional Rights said: ‘It’s become very clear that if all things are equal and if the law is to be applied fairly, this really does amount to crimes against humanity and for which higher officials in the Catholic Church can and should be held accountable.’
Tens of thousands of abuse survivors are angry that no high-ranking Catholic leaders have been prosecuted for sheltering guilty priests despite years of growing numbers of abuse revelations.
In 2001 the pope led the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversaw abuse cases.
But legal experts say there is little chance of the case being taken on by the ICC. Many of the crimes took place before the court was set up in 2002 which puts them out of its remit.