Monday, 12 April 2010

The case to arrest the Pope

Last Friday, the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal became even more explosive with the revelation that the Pope (head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time of the incident) had signed a letter "delaying Church action against a paedophile priest." This is the most compelling proof yet of his complicity in the cover-up of child rape for the "good of the Universal Church."

This comes six days after journalist Johann Hari, on Dateline London, made the case that Joseph Ratzinger should be arrested for a conspiracy to cover up grave abuses (part 1, part 2, part 3). As he put it;
The paper trail goes to Ratzinger … The language of mistakes and repentance is wrong. This is a matter of criminal law. We’re talking about an international criminal conspiracy to cover up the rape of children that enabled that rape to go on for a very long period. It’s not enough to say sorry. If you’re sorry, hand yourself over to the police and let them investigate it.

Hari will be pleased to learn, then, that Professor Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have taken up his cause. The Times reports that they "have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church" using "the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998."

On his website, Dawkins has denied being so "personally grandiloquent" as to want to slap the cuffs on himself. However, he does wholeheartedly support the idea. According to him, the Catholic Church is a "profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution" and must be challenged. I won't hesitate to agree with this, or with Christopher Hitchens' assessment that the pope "is not above or outside the law. The institutionalized concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded payoffs, but justice and punishment."

Here, I wish to repeat my previous insistence that - in line with my wider views of crimes against children - what awaits Ratzinger should not be a baying lynch mob, and that the issue should not be drowned in hysteria. What is at issue here is the deliberate, institutional cover-up of child abuse, and those involved should face justice.

Vengeance is no more appropriate than overt protection for the "good of the Universal Church." As Geoffrey Robertson argued in the Guardian, this is a case for "international law, which now counts the widespread or systematic sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity." The case must be made that "acts causing harm to mental or physical health, committed against civilians on a widespread or systematic scale, if condoned by a government or a de facto authority" are crimes against humanity. On those grounds, Joseph Ratzzinger must be arrested.