In the recent years there have been a number of scandals concerning the sexual abuse of the children in the hands of the priests in the Catholic establishments. The spread of the revealed scandals in the USA and different European countries proved that these were not exceptions and that the paedophilia and child abuse by priests was of global scale.
What many of us have neglected is the fact that these criminal acts are classed as crimes against humanity and it may be possible to put the Pope himself in the dock at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over these abuses by a church of which he is the head.
The book “The Case of the Pope” written by the prominent UK attorney Geoffrey Robertson QC is investigating the possibility of bringing such a case against the pontiff and in the course of its investigation provides valuable information about the Vatican structure and history.
The Catholic Church is the only organised religion with claim to statehood and the only one with a seat in the United Nations assembly as a state. Vatican is only the name of the land and the state itself is known as the Holy See. This state insists on using its own law, the Canon Law, in dealing with the paedophile priests and actively discourages reporting of such crimes to the civil authorities whose citizens have been the victims of the crime.
The procedure followed by the church in such cases is of outmost secrecy, with the primary concern being the reputation of the church. The paedophile priests are moved from one parish to another in an effort to avert the scandal and the victims are sworn and if needed bribed to secrecy. Confessions and repentance by the priests is the procedure advised by the Canon law. They are then moved and given new opportunities in a different parish where they have contact with unsuspecting children. The maximum punishment of defrocking has seldom taken place. The effect of such crimes on the often under-aged victims and the help that they may need is seemingly of no concern to the church.
The Holy See claim’s to statehood is unfounded and fails to meet the accepted international definition of statehood. It is based on the Lateran treaty of 1926 which was nothing more than an agreement between the Mussolini and Pope Pius XI who had earlier advised the king to appoint Mussolini as the prime minister. The treaty shored up the church’s support for the fascist party and two months after the signing of the treaty, the priests told their parishioners to vote for the Mussolini who in consequence won by 98.33 percent of the vote. This was a departure from the church’s opposition to voting during the reign of Pius IX who was the sworn enemy of the liberal democracy in Europe and who condemned freedom of speech and of conscience.
The existence of the Holy See in the UN as a state has allowed it to undermine the international efforts to better the plight of women and homosexuals. It first used its power in the Cairo conference in 1995 where through alliance with states like Lybia and Iran and with the help of allies form catholic countries of Latin America and Africa, it opposed the ‘right to sexual health’, refusing that abortion or contraception could be tools of population control or that the victims of the backyard abortions may be helped. In the Beijing conference of 1995, again forming an alliance with the Muslim and Catholic states, the Holy See delegation opposed the availability of condoms to curtail the spread of AIDS in the third world. In 1996 the Holy See launched a campaign against UNICEF encouraging states to withdraw their contributions because it had created a handbook for women in refugee camps to guide them in the use of family planning service. In 1998 it sent its largest delegation to the Rome conference who sought to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC). Amongst other actions to water down the bill, it objected to the draft that recognised the gang rape of women by soldiers a crime against humanity. It still has not signed the ICC treaty that paves the way for the trials of the heads of states in the cases of crimes against humanity without granting them the immunity that they traditionally enjoyed. In the same line Cardinal Ratzinger (the present Pope) protested passionately to the UK in 1999 against the arrest of the torturer general Pinochet, on the basis that he was the head of a state. The book then provides a long list of other treaties that the Holy See has failed to sign, including Convention on the rights of the child, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
The same ICC treaty may be used for the prosecution of the Pope as head of the state for crimes committed by Paedophile priests, but there are many complexities involved in such a case as the book explains. The book is written in the form of solicitor notes with each paragraph numbered. It is rich with factual data although at times repetitive, and as a result does not lend itself to a fast read. It certainly took me longer than usual to finish this short book due to the concentration that it demands. I however turned the last page a satisfied reader who had gained a deeper insight into one of the most revered organisations in the world. An organisation that uses its position to hide paedophiles, oppose women and gay rights and support authoritarian rulers.
The Case of the Pope, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Penguin Books, 2010
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