Former San Francisco Archbishop William Levada is one of a group of top Vatican officials named in a sex abuse complaint filed this week with the International Criminal Court.
Representatives of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Center for Constitutional Rights on Tuesday called for an inquiry by the court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, into charges that the church hierarchy tolerated widespread sexual abuse on a global scale.
The complaint names Pope Benedict XVI, the now-Cardinal Levada and two other cardinals. Levada was archbishop of San Francisco from 1995 to 2005, and now heads the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is responsible for overseeing abuse cases.
Levada has also been accused of suppressing clergy abuse cases while in San Francisco.
A statement from SNAP on Wednesday urged "investigation and prosecution of high-level Vatican officials for their roles in the on-going protection of perpetrators, hiding of crimes and the enabling of rape, sexual assault and torture of thousands of individuals around the world."
The group also urged victims of clergy sexual abuse, as well as church employees with information about such crimes or attempts to cover them up, to come forward.
An attorney for the Vatican, in a statement to The Associated Press, denounced this week's complaint as a "ludicrous publicity stunt and a misuse of international judicial processes."
According to the AP, an investigation by the International Criminal Court would be highly unlikely, as the court has received nearly 9,000 independent proposals for inquiries since its creation in 2002, and has never opened a formal investigation based solely on such a request.
Pam Spees, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, conceded she was "not hopeful" an investigation would be launched by the court.
The prosecutor's office said in a statement that it would study the evidence presented, but would first have to determine whether the alleged crimes fall under its jurisdiction.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.