The case for arresting the Pope
Richard Dawkins, the atheist campaigner, is planning a legal ambush to have the Pope arrested during his state visit to Britain “for crimes against humanity”.
Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, 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.
The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.
Dawkins and Hitchens hope to arrest the Pope when he visits Britain between September 16 and 19. Hitchens first proposed the idea of launching a campaign to arrest the Pope, and Dawkins wholeheartedly supports the legal challenge. The pair believe Benedict will be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because he is not the head of a state recognized by the United Nations, though the Pope’s tour is categorized as a “state visit”.
Barrister Geoffrey Robertson and solicitor Mark Stephens have been brought aboard to help with the legal arguments, and they both seem very optimistic they can get Crown Prosecution Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope.
There is already legal precedent for this type of order.
Last year pro-Palestinian activists persuaded a British judge to issue an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni, the Israeli politician, for offences allegedly committed during the 2008-09 conflict in Gaza. The warrant was withdrawn after Livni cancelled her planned trip to the UK.
“There is every possibility of legal action against the Pope occurring,” said Stephens. “Geoffrey and I have both come to the view that the Vatican is not actually a state in international law. It is not recognised by the UN, it does not have borders that are policed and its relations are not of a full diplomatic nature.”
We now know the Pope had direct involvement in harboring criminals. When Pinochet was arrested in 1998, he was charged with 94 counts of torture. Surely, child rape should be considered a form of torture, and unlike Pinochet, Benedict cannot hide behind a head of state title. The Pope’s fantasies of grandeur may compel poor people to throw their hard-earned cash at the church, but in the real world, Benedict is just a former Hitler Youth who now wears a funny hat, and occasionally covers for child rapists. He’s a criminal — the head of a criminal enterprise — who can still be punished under the law.
Here is Robertson outlining the specific charges.
The ICC Statute definition of a crime against humanity includes rape and sexual slavery and other similarly inhumane 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. It has been held to cover the recruitment of children as soldiers or sex slaves. If acts of sexual abuse by priests are not isolated or sporadic, but part of a wide practice both known to and unpunished by their de facto authority then they fall within the temporal jurisdiction of the ICC – if that practice continued after July 2002, when the court was established.
According to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the total number of priests with allegations of abuse in the college’s survey is 4,392 for the period 1950-2002 (and not counting allegations that were withdrawn). Approximately one-third of all allegations were reported in 2002-2003, which falls within the window after the creation of the ICC.
The John Jay survey covers only US priests, and yet this single study proves the abuse was not isolated or sporadic. Additionally, the criminal enterprise has international reach extending to Ireland, Australia, Canada, Belgium, France, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, etc. So if the only prerequisites for arresting the Pope are that the allegations need to have been filed after 2002, and be systemic in nature, then Check and Mate.
The world need not remain silent in the presence of such evil simply because the Pope shields himself behind a veil of religiosity. In the past, sane members of our societies have drawn the line, and arrested religious charlatans for criminal behavior.
Warren Jeffs, the former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was arrested for two first-degree felony charges of accomplice rape for arranging extralegal marriages between his adult male followers and underage girls. In 2007, he was indicted in Arizona on eight counts, including sexual conduct with a minor and incest.
Through it all, Jeffs claimed to be a prophet (aren’t they always a prophet?) for one of the largest Mormon fundamentalist denominations, and yet he was not considered above the law when he began to facilitate the rape of little girls.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses proved to have their shit together more than the church when they kicked out George Arthur Cockerill, a former JW who was convicted of 19 rapes, four counts of sexual activity with a child, six counts of indecency with a child, one sex assault and two counts of indecency with a child. The sentencing judge said Cockerill used his religion as a “tool of subjection to control [his] victims.” Much like a nefarious priest manipulates a trusting child, and yet a UK judge did not permit Cockerill to use his religion as armor.
“As one victim said, you have stolen her childhood,” said Judge Roger Thorn QC. The Pope, and the rapist priests he protects, have stolen countless childhoods. They also must be held accountable.
A note from Richard Dawkins:
Needless to say, I did NOT say “I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI” or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself.
What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope’s proposed visit to Britain. Beyond that, I declined to comment to Marc Horme, other than to refer him to my ‘Ratzinger is the Perfect Pope’ article here: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5341
Here is what really happened. Christopher Hitchens first proposed the legal challenge idea to me on March 14th. I responded enthusiastically, and suggested the name of a high profile human rights lawyer whom I know. I had lost her address, however, and set about tracking her down. Meanwhile, Christopher made the brilliant suggestion of Geoffrey Robertson. He approached him, and Mr Robertson’s subsequent ‘Put the Pope in the Dock’ article in The Guardian shows him to be ideal:
The case is obviously in good hands, with him and Mark Stephens. I am especially intrigued by the proposed challenge to the legality of the Vatican as a sovereign state whose head can claim diplomatic immunity.
Even if the Pope doesn’t end up in the dock, and even if the Vatican doesn’t cancel the visit, I am optimistic that we shall raise public consciousness to the point where the British government will find it very awkward indeed to go ahead with the Pope’s visit, let alone pay for it.