Feature

The pope: Could he be arrested?

Authors Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are lobbying to have Pope Benedict XVI arrested for “crimes against humanity” when he visits Britain in September.

You thought “the Spanish Inquisition was a thing of the past?” said Jay Ambrose in Scripps Howard News Service. Well, “here comes the atheist 21st-century version.” Not content with writing best-selling books condemning religion in all its forms, authors Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are now lobbying to have Pope Benedict XVI arrested for “crimes against humanity” when he visits Britain in September. The evidence is damning, said Christopher Hitchens in Newsweek. In his previous role as a Vatican administrator, then–Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a letter to all Catholic bishops instructing them to say nothing about rape or molestation allegations to anyone outside the church. Failing to report a crime is a crime in itself. There’s also ample evidence that Ratzinger was “lenient or negligent” with a number of priests known to be pedophiles, so as to protect the church’s reputation. Is it really so outrageous to demand that “a Bavarian bureaucrat” who hid child-rapists from the law be held legally responsible?

Let’s be serious, said Julian Knowles in the London Times. The chances of “atheists handcuffing the pontiff” lie somewhere between slim and nonexistent. As the Vatican’s head of state, the pope is entitled to “complete criminal and civil immunity” under international law. Dawkins and Hitchens know that, said Deacon Keith Fournier in Catholic.org. They also doubtless know that the pope had nothing to do with the abuse of children or any ensuing coverup. An attempt to arrest Benedict would be a publicity stunt that would do nothing to “bring abusive priests to justice or assist in helping the victims.”

Let’s pretend for a moment we’re not talking about the pope, said Richard Dawkins in the London Guardian. Imagine instead that some nation’s secretary of education had learned of a teacher molesting pupils. Rather than reporting the teacher to the police, or even firing him, the secretary simply had the offender transferred to another school, explaining in a letter to colleagues that it would harm the government’s reputation to admit that a pedophile had ever been employed. If such a letter ever came to light, that official would “immediately have to resign in ignominy, and face prosecution himself.” Well, Pope Benedict did write such a letter. All we’re saying is that if he is innocent, let him prove it in court. “If he is guilty, let him face justice. Just like anybody else.”

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