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Cases of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, nuns and members of religious orders, and subsequent cover-ups, in the 20th and 21st centuries have led to numerous allegations, investigations, trials and convictions.

The abused include boys and girls, some as young as 3 years old, with the majority between the ages of 11 and 14.

But, in 2002 The Boston Globe reported, "clearly the issue has been most prominent in the United States." According to a Pew Research Center study, in 2002 the media coverage was focused on the US, where a Boston Globe series initiated widespread coverage in the region. In September 2011, a submission was lodged with the International Criminal Court alleging that the Pope, Cardinal Angelo Sodano (Dean of the College of Cardinals), Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (Cardinal Secretary of State), and Cardinal William Levada (then-current Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) had committed a crime against humanity by failing to prevent or punish perpetrators of rape and sexual violence in a "systematic and widespread" concealment which included failure to co-operate with relevant law enforcement agencies.

In a statement to the Associated Press, the Vatican described this as a "ludicrous publicity stunt and a misuse of international judicial processes." Lawyers and law professors emphasized that the case is likely to fall outside the court's jurisdiction.

The accusations began to receive isolated, sporadic publicity in the late 1980s.