Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Will the Pope now face trial?

[Originally posted at NOW]

The preeminent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, whose career is so distinguished that he is one of only three experts nominated to the UN’s Internal Justice Council (that is, he polices the world’s police), wrote a regrettably neglected book in 2010 in which he argued that, in his legal opinion, Joseph Ratzinger (known until yesterday as Pope Benedict XVI) ought to be put on trial for crimes against humanity.

As Robertson and many others have noted, Ratzinger personally aided and abetted the rape of children – by shielding perpetrators from punishment; bribing victims and their families into silence; and placing unsuspecting children in the “care” of known rapists, who predictably went on to re-offend. This history is extraordinarily well-documented. We have, to take one of dozens of examples, the infamous letter of 2001, penned in Cardinal Ratzinger’s own hand, in which he threatened to excommunicate any bishop anywhere in the world who informed local police of child rape cases, which were to be handled exclusively by the secretive courts of Canon Law (the Catholic version of shari’a), hushed up in “perpetual silence”.

Indeed, so solid is the evidence against Ratzinger that the Vatican doesn’t try to contest it, basing its defense instead on his alleged legal immunity as a head of state.

This defense was always disputed by Robertson, who noted that Vatican “statehood” was premised entirely on a sleazy quid pro quo with the mass-murderer Benito Mussolini.

But after yesterday’s news, that debate no longer matters. Pope Benedict XVI has become Joseph Ratzinger again; a fallible, non-divine, non-King. Robertson is already on the case, so to speak, writing that Ratzinger now loses whatever immunity he might once have claimed, and has thus become completely fair game. His concluding words are tantalizing ones for all who hold the protection of children from rape to be of greater concern than preserving the powers of religious authoritarians:

“There are many victims of priests permitted by Cardinal Ratzinger to stay in holy orders after their propensity to molest was known, and they would like to sue the ex-pope for damages for negligence. If he steps outside the Vatican, a court may rule that they have a case.”

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