The UK government is said to have set in motion a law change that will prevent the Pope from being arrested when he visits the country in September.
Officials in Whitehall – the UK government’s administrative offices – are said to be worried over plans by the atheist authors Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to have Pope Benedict arrested for crimes against humanity, because of his alleged cover-up of priestly assaults on children.
“Mr Dawkins, the atheist campaigner, and Mr Hitchens, an atheist author, asked human rights lawyers in April to put together a case for charging the Pope over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church,” reportsPink News today.
Its report adds: “Justice Secretary Ken Clarke proposed changes to the law today which would require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions to any arrest warrant issued under universal jurisdiction.”
The Pope’s proposed visit has ever been free of controversy since it was announced last year.
A recent suggestion by the Pope’s second-in-command, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, that child abuse and paedophilia were connected with homosexuality brought condemnation even from fellow Catholics in the UK.
Anti-Pope petitionA website dedicated to protesting against the visit has been set up, and the gay human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell set up a Downing Street petition. However, he complained last week that Prime Minister David Cameron had closed down the petition rather than let it run its full course, for fear of embarrassing the British government prior to September’s state visit.
“This looks like an attempt to prevent the petition from embarrassing the government by gaining a large number of signatures in the run-up to Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK in September,” said Tatchell.
“The Prime Minister’s office originally agreed that the petition would remain open until the Pope arrived in the UK. But his officials declared it closed on 6 June and only informed me of this decision yesterday. The petition had been frozen since early April, on the grounds that the general election was imminent. It was never reopened. During the short time it was online the petition gathered 12,339 signatures,” Tatchell added.
Conflict resolutionPink News quotes Justice Secretary Clarke as saying of the law change: “Our commitment to our international obligations and to ensuring that there is no impunity for those accused of crimes of universal jurisdiction is unwavering.
“It is important, however, that universal-jurisdiction cases should be proceeded with in this country only on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution – otherwise there is a risk of damaging our ability to help in conflict resolution or to pursue a coherent foreign policy.
“The government has concluded, after careful consideration, that it would be appropriate to require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be issued to a private prosecutor in respect of an offence of universal jurisdiction.”
A huge march through London is planned by the Protest the Pope campaign, which will take place on Saturday, September 18, which is the day Benedict will hold an outdoor mass in Hyde Park.
The Protest the Pope campaign has announced its large-scale march through London on Saturday 18 September – the day that the Pope will be holding his outdoor mass in Hyde Park.
The protest march will assemble at 1 p.m. at Hyde Park Corner.
And a public meeting to form the Richmond Coalition Against the State Visit of the Pope will be held at Richmond Library, Old Town Hall, Whittaker Avenue, Richmond on Thursday, August 12. at 7.30 p.m.
This, says the UK’s National Secular Society, “is in response to Ratzinger’s first event in London, on Friday 17th September, which will be at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham, just down the road from Richmond, where he will talk about his views on Education.”
The society’s website quotes a spokesperson for the Protest the Pope campaign as saying: “We reject the promotion of segregated education and state funding of faith schools. This is why the Campaign will support a local coalition of associations based in southwest London that are organizing protests on the 17th September in Twickenham: a day that will be themed Education Day.”