Sunday, October 17, 2010

Responsible for abuses

Holding Pope responsible for abuses is not too dangerous Rick Feneley
September 29, 2010
Far from hypothetical . . . Geoffrey Robertson. Photo: James Brickwood
OUR first question in the interrogation of Geoffrey Robertson, QC: is prosecuting the Pope for the sins of child-molesting priests a dangerous idea - so dangerous that we must dismiss it as a hypothetical?

The human rights lawyer clasps his hands, the courtly gesture he made famous on Geoffrey Robertson's Hypotheticals, and replies: ''I don't think it's dangerous at all.''

Mr Robertson is in his Sydney hotel near the Opera House where, on Saturday, he will be the headline act in the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. He will debate Alan Dershowitz, the renowned American criminal lawyer who has represented Mike Tyson and O. J. Simpson, in a session titled ''The sins of the fathers: should the Pope be held to account?''

Advertisement: Story continues below Mr Robertson, unlike his atheist friends Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, does not want the 83-year-old Pope put on trial for what he calls a ''human rights atrocity''.

The Australian lawyer, who lives in London, worried that his message became lost in sensation under British tabloid headlines such as ''Put Pope in the dock'' and ''Plot to have the Pope arrested''.

''I don't want to prosecute him,'' Mr Robertson says. ''I want something done to end this epidemic of child abuse.''

So he proffers this warning to the Pope and the Vatican - that they could be legally liable for the crimes of thousands of priests, not as a dangerous idea but a ''useful'' one that might spur them into action. In his latest book, The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse, Mr Robertson decries as many as 100,000 cases of Catholic clerical child abuse around the world since 1981. The church, he writes, has harboured priests and covered up their crimes by refusing to hand them over to police and insisting they be tried secretly under canon law.

While victims are silenced, priests are told to pray for them as penance, then are ''trafficked'' to other parishes or countries where they are free to molest again.

This is perpetuated, Mr Robertson writes, by the ''pseudo state'' of the Holy See that was created in 1929 in a deal between Mussolini and the pro-fascist Pope Pius XI, and which the Vatican describes as an ''absolute monarchy''. As its head of state, the Pope is immune from prosecution, to which Mr Robertson says he has no rightful claim.

''In law, a state must have people, but there are no Vaticanians,'' Mr Robertson said yesterday. ''It's the size of a golf course, a small enclave in Rome with a few hundred Catholic officials. No one is born in the Vatican, other than by unfortunate accident.''

Mr Robertson argues that abuses have occurred for 30 years under the watch of the pontiff, as the Pope and as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. While prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body that deals with clerical abuse, he ''preferred not to defrock paedophiles who have gone on to rape and molest others''. In 2001 he instructed bishops to maintain canonical secrecy and, in July, he refused to amend canon law to require bishops to report abusive priests to police.

''I was very pleased that last week he described child abuse in the Catholic Church as an unspeakable crime,'' he says. ''But then he went on to say it was a disease. He still doesn't grasp that most of the molestation isn't done by people who are in the grip of disease. The problem is, he hesitates. He still refuses to do what is absolutely necessary.''

No comments: