Leading atheists want the Pope to be arrested after he lands at Heathrow for “crimes against humanity”. Andy Jackson argues that the Pope needs to take decisive action now to stop this becoming a reality.
Imagine the scene. A small, white haired man reaches the bottom of the staircase from the aircraft to be met by a British police officer who says: “Excuse me - Joseph Ratzinger? I’m arresting you on suspicion of crimes against humanity. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you may later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
Send shivers down your spine, doesn’t it?
When the Pope visits the UK later this year, leading atheists and others want Pope Benedict XVI to be arrested for “crimes against humanity”.
Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins are among those wanting to arrest the Pope for what they claim is his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. According to reports, human rights lawyers in the UK are preparing a case.
The Pope’s visit was announced before recent allegations about a letter signed by him while working as a Cardinal which delayed the punishment of Stephen Kiesle, a priest in the USA.
Kiesle was found guilty of lewd conduct with two boys in 1978 and was recommended by his diocese to be removed. This didn’t happen until 1987. Kiesle was sentenced to six years in prison in 2004 after admitting molesting a young girl in 1995.
Cardinal Ratzinger took over the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981, which has responsibility for tackling abuse by clerics.
There are other allegations facing the Pope.
In 1980, as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, he approved housing for a priest accused of child abuse - a former deputy later said he made the decision; that he failed to act over complaints during the 1990s about US priest Lawrence Murphy, who is thought to have abused some 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin; and that he allowed a case against Arizona priest Michael Teta to languish at the Vatican for more than a decade, despite repeated pleas for his removal.
According to the US news service CBS, documents reviewed by The Associated Press showed that in 1990, members of a church tribunal found that Michael Teta, who served as a priest in Tuscon, Arizona, had molested children and deemed his behaviour - including allegations that he abused boys in a confessional - almost “satanic”.
The tribunal referred his case to then-Cardinal Ratzinger. It took 12 years from the referral for Teta to be formally removed from the ministry.
The Pope's supporters say he is being blamed for cases handled by junior staff, and that he has been proactive in tackling child abuse.
Clifford Longley, a columnist for The Tablet, claimed that the Cardinal was thwarted by other senior Vatican figures who wanted to cover up the sex-abuse crisis, until he was given overall control of the issue in 2001.
Regardless of what did and didn’t happen, this is fast becoming severely damaging to the Catholic Church and will not go away unless the Pope starts taking decisive action, and fast.
The scandals are attracting global news coverage and the more public they get, the more damaging and litigious they become. Last October, the Catholic diocese in the state of Delaware filed for bankruptcy protection on the eve of a civil trial involving high-profile sex abuse.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith needs to dissolved and in its place a no-holds barred investigative unit who will expose priests who have abused children, have them prosecuted in the country where the abuse took place, fire and excommunicate them if found guilty, and then reconcile the victims to remind them that it’s not the whole church that’s evil, just a minority of people within it.
And if the Pope really wants this to work, this unit has to be independent of the church.
It sounds like a sort of Inquisition but unless the Pope acts now, there will be a false belief for generations to come that the Catholic Church protects paedophiles and asks the victims of those caught to keep quiet about it.
That’s the reality of what Pope faces, and unless he starts to take high-profile action, he may be the first Pope in almost 600 years to have to resign to protect the church he loves.
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