The atheist academic Professor Richard Dawkins says he supports a legal attempt to have Pope Benedict XVI arrested “for crimes against humanity.”
The Pope is due to visit the UK in September, and that is when what the Sunday Times calls a “legal ambush” is planned.
The pair have asked human-rights lawyers to produce a case for charging the Pope – formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – “over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church,” says the newspaper, adding: “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.”
The Pope is at the centre of the biggest scandal to hit the Catholic Church, as hundreds of cases of priestly child molestation have come to light in recent years, some going back decades.
Some of those in the UK who oppose his proposed visit – which could cost the British taxpayer upwards of £20 million, it is believed – have mounted protests, calling for the visit to be scaled down from state visit to pastoral visit, so that the Catholic Church would have to pay the bills.
New controversy surrounded the Pope last week when a letter, signed by him as Joseph Ratzinger, emerged arguing that the “good of the universal church” should be put before the defrocking of a California priests with a record of child abuse.
The Pope will be in Britain between September 16 and 19, and will visit London, Glasgow, and Coventry, where he will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th-century theologian, who, ironically, is thought to have been gay.
Dawkins (author of The God Delusion) and Hitchens (author of God is Not Great) believe Ratzinger would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity because, although his tour is categorized as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognized by the United Nations. Vatican City is a state, but in the UN it has only “permanent observer” status.
“They have commissioned the barrister Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens, a solicitor, to present a justification for legal action,” says the Sunday Times, which says the legal move is “for crimes against humanity.” “The lawyers believe they can ask the Crown Prosecution Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope, launch their own civil action against him or refer his case to the International Criminal Court.”
Dawkins is quoted as saying: “This is a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence.”
Hitchens said: “This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalized concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded payoffs, but justice and punishment.”
Since the Sunday Times article, Dawkins clarified on his website what he meant when the newspaper telephoned him:
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 [journalist] 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 . . .
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.Related link: Opinion: Priestly abuse – where does it all go from here?Background information: Clinton Richard Dawkins (69) was the Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and, as a biologist, has written several books, including the seminal The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. He was also one of those behind the UK Atheist Bus Campaign, which saw posters on buses claiming there’s “probably no God” and spread to other countries. He’s married to actress Lalla Ward, who played Romana in Doctor Who in the seventies, opposite Tom Baker as the Doctor. Dawkins appeared as himself in Doctor Who in Russell T. Davies’s 2008 story The Stolen Planet, with David Tennant as the Doctor.