Monday, 12 April 2010

Arresting the Pope

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If you happened to pick up The Sunday Times yesterday, you could easily have could come away with an exciting new view of the author of such popular science classics as The Selfish Gene, Unweaving the Rainbow and The Greatest Show on Earth. "Dawkins: I will arrest the Pope", a headline in the paper declared, suggesting that, when the Pontiff arrives on these shores this September, the former Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University would personally stroll over to the Papal Plane, kick in the door, rough up a few Swiss Guards, present an arrest warrant and slap a pair of handcuffs on Benedict XVI, hauling him off to the slammer to face charges for his alleged role in covering up the abuse of children by errant Catholic priests around the world.

It's an exciting image, isn't it? But if your bullshit detector didn't go off as soon as you read the headline, you might like to take it for its annual service. Dawkins himself was quick to point out on his own website that the headline was grossly misleading and did a disservice to both himself and the Times journalist behind the piece. The Times has since changed the headline on its website and, while the story is still interesting, you'll need to drop that image of Dawkins personally nicking the Pope. The truth of the matter is that Christopher Hitchens has suggested the possibility of mounting a legal challenge to the Papal Visit, and has been exploring it along with Dawkins and the lawyers Geoffery Robertson and Mark Stephens.

This, of course, raises the question of whether this is a wise move. Is it a media stunt, or is there a serious possibility of challenging the Pope's visit on the grounds of his possible legal responsibility for Catholic child abuse? To what extent should the Pope himself even be held responsible?

For detailed analysis of all these questions, I recommend this excellent post over at Heresy Corner, which really skewers the issue nicely.