Tuesday, 13 April 2010

So should the Pope face arrest in the UK?

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As discussion continues over the proposal to mount a legal challenge to the Pope's forthcoming visit to the UK (or Dawkins' proposal to personally arrest the Pope, if you go with the Sunday Times' interpretation), we thought we'd run a poll to gauge our readers' views on the issue. Here's the question and the choice of answers, followed by an outline of the competing views surrounding this issue, which we've used to put together this poll.

You can place your vote at the top right of this page.
Do you think the Pope should face legal action over the Catholic child abuse cover-ups?

a) Yes. This cover-up appears to go to the very top and its perpetrators must face justice.

b) Yes. While it's unlikely the Pope will end up in the dock, suggestion of a legal challenge during his UK visit will draw attention to the extent of the cover-up.

c) No. This looks like atheist posturing. We need to join with Catholics in calling on the Vatican to come clean on this issue, and talk of arresting the Pope will just alienate them.

d) No. This is about many individual, horrific cases of abuse spread over decades. It is a distraction to try and attribute responsibility to one man.
Of course, the issue isn't one of whether Richard Dawkins will be marching Pope Benedict XVI to a police station this September, but rather whether there is a legal opening for holding the Pope responsible for the child abuse cover-ups. This was outlined by Geoffery Robertson QC in the Guardian on Good Friday, no less. Robertson suggests that, as international law "now counts the widespread or systematic sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity", there is a possibility that Benedict, as the man who, as Cardinal Ratzinger, ordered that cases of child abuse be concealed from secular authorities on pain of excommunication, could be tried on that basis. The daft image of Dawkins himself arresting the Pope stems from the idea that, if an arrest warrant could be obtained for Benedict in this country, an arrest could be carried out when he arrives on these shores in September.

A further intruguing angle to all this is that, in order for a warrant to be obtained, it would first have to be demonstrated that the Pope is not entitled to diplomatic immunity as the head of state of the Holy See. So, reading between the lines, the idea of a legal challenge as put forward by Robertson, Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and solicitor Mark Stephens is less about the unrealistic prospect of physically putting the Pope in the dock, and more about drawing attention to the twin issues of the abuse cover-ups and the Vatican's anomalous statehood by raising the unlikely possibility of prosecution.

There have of course been lots of arguments made against this idea. In an excellent post, the Heresy Corner blogger demonstrates the implausibility of the whole idea, while pointing out that talk of arresting the Pope distracts from the real issues at stake. "There were bishops and Vatican officials whose actions were more reprehensible," he writes. "Yet who are escaping the intense scrutiny reserved for the man at the top." Meanwhile, Catholic barrister Neil Addison, who writes a blog on the law and religious freedom, dismisses suggestions that the Vatican's statehood can be challenged:
"The legal status of the Vatican as an independent state may be regarded by some as ridiculous and it can be described as anomalous but it is nevertheless a legal fact and it is frankly fatuous for a lawyer to suggest otherwise."
Robertson's suggestions, Addison says, have their basis less in his legal expertise, and more in his personal prejudices against the Catholic Church:
"Normally I wouldn't comment on an article or Blog written by another person because, at the end of the day, we are all entitled to our own opinion but when a Lawyer writes an article or Blog and invokes the law then people are entitled to assume that they are quoting the law accurately not just engaging in personal prejudice and polemic masquerading as legal fact."
Another angle comes from Sam Leith in the Evening Standard, who suggests that the involvement of the so-called New Atheists is a distraction, which will put Catholics off joining in calls for the pepertrators of abuse and the cover-ups from being held to account:

"Many of us take the view that Pope Benedict is a very bad hat.His organisation, on his watch, systematically covered up child-rape on an institutional scale, and we'd like to see him answer to a rather more robust court than his own conscience.

But Dawkins and Hitchens leading the charge against him muddies the waters.They had a philosophical beef with the Pope before they had a legal one, and they will appear to many people to be acting in their roles as professional atheists with books to promote.

It's not metaphysics that are the primary problem here but child molestation. What we really need is believing Catholics, and lots of them, to be making the case for the Pope's arrest."
So, we've tried to feed these differing viewpoints into our poll answers. Vote at the top right of this page.

Update: Writing on Comment is Free, Richard Dawkins has set out the reasons why he believes the Pope should face legal action.


Tigger said...

Don't you think you should have included a clearer reference in your article to Richard Dawkin's complaint about The Sunday Times headline, from his own blog, pointing out that he DIDN'T say he was going to arrest the pope?

This fiction was dreamed up by some touble-making Sunday Times sub-editor!

Frankly, without making that fact a lot clearer you're as bad as The Sunday Times for perpetuating this nonsense!

Paul Sims said...

Tigger, I did that yesterday in my post on the issue: http://blog.newhumanist.org.uk/2010/04/so-should-pope-face-arrest-in-uk.html and I think I'm clear that it was a misleading view put forward by the Times when I say "(or Dawkins' proposal to personally arrest the Pope, if you go with the Sunday Times' interpretation)" in this post, which I might add also includes a link to yesterday's post on the matter.

Christopher Gray said...

I'd tick another option:

(e) A bit of all of the above.

Eiskrystal said...

-What we really need is believing Catholics, and lots of them, to be making the case for the Pope's arrest.-

The problem of course is that bible believing christians are NOT going to stand up to their holy leader in great numbers.

We have had this multiple times, the moderates do little about the actions of a few. Except whine about how because we WILL do something about it, we are being mean to ALL christians by daring to mention it.

Naumadd said...

Arresting the Pope himself only makes sense if he is personally responsible for offenses against one or more children in the UK. To hold the man responsible for offenses committed by others before or since he became Pope is ludicrous. That the man is the symbolic leader of an irrational religion does not make him personally guilty of all of its crimes past or present. One would have to show he is directly responsible for each individual crime. I don't think that is likely or even possible.

That one belongs or belonged to a chapter of the communist party doesn't make one guilty of the crimes of a Josef Stalin. That one is a muslim doesn't make one guilty of the crimes of an Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein even if one's outspoken opinions seem to suggest support for such behavior. Ill-advised opinion isn't a crime. If it were so, the prisons would be more overcrowded than they are.

BeadKnitter said...

I think all involved who committed these crimes-priests, cardinals, popes and whatnot-should be arrested and charged. If the pope assisted in covering up the crimes (and it's pretty clear he did before he became the pope) that's an accessory to the crimes. If they weren't catholic officials and just 'regular' guys they'd be charged. It's the fact the church has been held above the law of the land for so long that pisses me off. They're given a privilege no one else can have.

Kagehi said...

Naumadd, if you ***personally***, in some company you where a manager in, not only overlooked, but defended, or moved some place else, people that you **knew** where accused of such things, would you expect to be fired or arrested too? Its called conspiracy to commit, or aiding and abetting, or just plain criminal negligence. You don't have to be the person that robs the bank, or buggers the child, just someone that a) let it keep happening, b) didn't feel it was necessary to stop it, or c) helped them get away from the scene of the crime.

So, you are wrong. It **is** perfectly reasonable to hold him responsible for the cases he was involved in covering up and hiding personally, before being Pope, and now he is *continuing* to aid and abet, and even defend, them, which, as head of the organization, makes it **all** his responsibility.

We are not talking about him being some random member of some fascist political party at this point, we are talking about him starting out as one of the generals, and ignoring the problem, and even actively hiding it, then **succeeding** your hypothetical Stalinesc leader to **that same** leadership position, and continuing to follow the practice of doing nothing to stop it, other than hide that its happening, and whine about how everyone it treating members of his army so poorly for their crimes.

Hell yes he is responsible, both for those cases he personally hid, but every single one of them that continues to be hidden, ignored, and/or "handled internally", by moving them around, and letting them continue to commit the crimes some place where no one knows they are a danger.

D, as a choice, is, on the face of it, a sign of abject ignorance and immorality. You are basically saying, "Someone whose own personal letters shows he covered some up personally, and is now the *head* of the entire organization, and is still not doing anything to truly stop it, just make excuses, and let others make them, can't be held responsible for the actions of *any* of his employees." Try that in *any* criminal court in the entire world and see what happens. Hell, remove the RC and child molestation from it, and replace it with something like, "Coca Cola" and "man being allowed to steal from the company for decades by his bosses", and see how fast even the RC would condemn such laziness in persecution for *any* other crime, by *any* other organization.

Hell, some of these people, who haven't been defrocked yet, that I can see, have even pulled the "I was following orders", or, "Why is this crime so bad that you are all picking on us?", lines, again, without their boss so much as telling them to, "shut up, that is inappropriate and we have been wrong the way we are handling this", never mind firing them.

berenike said...

Well, you see how much it's worth trusting the papers - interpretation, not information. Bear that in mind when reading about anything :)

eddie said...

I don't understand how any person can see child rape and cover-up and come to the decision; the rapists and their protectors should not be punished because richard dawkins is a bit outspoken. Really?
The same with those who try to paint the pope as victim here. It's even been suggested that RD, etc want to let the bishops and priests off and inly target their boss. Simply not true. Bishops and priests, we're coming for you too.