Sex abuse victims urge ICC Pope investigation
A group representing victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests is asking the International Criminal Court to investigate Pope Benedict XVI and three senior cardinals for alleged crimes against humanity.
A New York-based legal charity says they failed to prevent child abuse.
A Vatican lawyer called the case a "ludicrous publicity stunt".
The Roman Catholic Church has been rocked by a series of sex abuse cover-up scandals in recent years.
The Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is filing the complaint, says it has submitted more than 20,000 pages of evidence of crimes committed by Catholic clergy against children and vulnerable adults to the Hague-based court.
It is being supported by abuse victims in the United States, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
"Crimes against tens of thousands of victims, most of them children, are being covered up by officials at the highest level of the Vatican," said the CCR's lawyer, Pam Spees.
"In this case, all roads really do lead to Rome."
The International Criminal Court was set up nine years ago to deal with serious international crimes. It lists rape and sexual violence as crimes against humanity.
But neither the US nor the Vatican was a party to the original treaty setting up the court.
Lawyer Jeffrey Lena, who represents the Vatican in US sex abuse cases, told the Associated Press the request for the ICC to investigate was a "misuse of international judicial processes".
The BBC's David Willey in Rome says the question as to whether the court has jurisdiction in this case will have to be determined by the ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo.
Pope Benedict has in the past expressed shame and sorrow over the clerical sex scandal and has called on bishops around the world to come up with common guidelines against paedophile priests by May 2012.