Should the Pope Face Charges for Harbouring Pedophiles?
September 13th, 2010
God in the Dock, meaning God on trial, is a familiar concept in Britain, both from the title of a famous collection of essays by C.S. Lewis and as a general term for skepticism about religious belief and doctrine. But Pope in the Dock? Literally? Perhaps not in our lifetimes, as British lawyer Geoffrey Robertson concedes in The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse, a book set to appear just one week before Benedict XVI makes the first-ever papal state visit to Britain. But, Robertson argues, the once unthinkable idea that Benedict or a successor could be charged with obstructing justice or for “harbouring pedophile priests” is now very thinkable, and—given evolving trends in international human rights law—may soon be practical.
The plain facts of the case to be answered are horrific and undeniable. Since the dam crumbled around the turn of the decade, a cascade of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy has come tumbling into the open. So many cases emerged that the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference commissioned an expert study, which concluded in 2004 that, since 1950, 10,667 individuals had made plausible allegations against 4,392 priests, 4.3 per cent of the entire body of clergy in that period. The total bill in settlements with victims is spiralling toward $2 billion and won’t stop, Forbes predicts, this side of $5 billion. Depressingly similar stories from other First World countries, including Canada, soon emerged; the situation in Latin America and Africa, where no investigations have ever been made, can only be imagined.