Notes on The Pope

(Warning: this post is 3,931 words long)

Adam Wilcox has written two short pieces for Liberal Conspiracy which demonstrate his anxiety at the Papal visit – now in its second day – and his strong feeling that the Pope should be arrested. The second piece draws upon four main themes to his anxiety of the visit: 1) The Pope is not blameless on the sexual abuse cover-up; 2) paying for a wealthy church to visit is itself an insult to the taxpayer; 3) the Pope entering the UK when the Phelps family, for example, cannot, shows a level of hypocrisy – since their views on homosexuals are about the same; 4) the Pope should not be above the law, and certainly the British constabulary should not be complicit in the Pope’s being above the law.

In this entry I aim to discuss at length 1 and 4, while adding 2 into the latter, and 3 into a fifth element which discusses opposition to the views of Pope Benedict.

Is the Pope blameless on the sexual abuse cover-up?

Ever since the Pope was invited to visit the UK, a select few entered fantasy mode whereby attempting to arrest Benedict became the number one wet dream. The top names of those fantasists were Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whose words in the pages of newspapers and blogs were little more than PR folly.

Their fantasy entered phase two when they both decided upon a legal lackey to help bring their dream to fruition.

Enter Geoffrey Robertson QC.

It was not too long before the discussion among the three turned from arresting the pontiff on account of his supposed complicity in the cover up of sexual abuses, to opposition of the Foreign Office’s position on the Pope’s international standing and entitlement to Head of State immunity, to whether the Holy See fits the criteria of statehood.

That hasn’t put a fork in the spokes of the fantasy, for it is alive and well – memetically charged some might say.

But the fantasy, now infiltrated by reality, has caveats. Nonetheless, Robertson will not back down.

In a public seminar at the London School of Economics (LSE) recently, publicising his new book on the Pope, Robertson put forward his case for why the Foreign Office ought to change its opinion on the status of the Vatican, and his charge that the Pope was not ignorant of child abuse occurring under his watch.

Robertson makes note of a web of lies. When Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, said that less than 1% of Priests were involved in the sexual abuse of minors in America. The very well respected John Jay College of Justice put the figure closer to 4.3%. The church replied saying that this was an American problem, which it most certainly was not.

There were notable cases in the US, cited by Robertson, such as Father Lawrence C Murphy and his abuse of 200 deaf choir boys, which, according to Robertson, led some Catholics in America to blame such things as the Jewish media, secularisation, and the Devil. But cases elsewhere started to emerge, necessitating the sum of $18m spent in Canada on a Truth and Reconciliation Programme for example. Additionally there had been 30 cases revealed in Melbourne, Australia, alone, and 50 cases of child abuse among Priests in Malta, to name only a few.

The sexual abuse scandal in the Los Angeles archdiocese would prove to be the event that awoke the sentiment that Catholicism and child abuse were almost synonymous – in spite of the fact that, as Marxist and Catholic academic Terry Eagleton puts it, praising Robertson on his book “[t]he first child sex scandal in the Catholic church took place in AD153, long before there was a “gay culture” or Jewish journalists for bishops to blame it on”.

Robertson levels the charge that Canon Law is a cover for Papal secrecy and that the Holy See exploits its privileged place in the UN while stopping at nothing to secure the good name of the church – even if that means turning a blind eye, or issuing weak charges, against sexual abuse carried out by Priests.

Attempting to debunk the claim that Pope Benedict has been a reformer of any revolutionary worth, Robertson notes that amidst the changes affecting Canon Law earlier this year, the Pope refused amendment to provide clear evidence of child molestation to police or ensure that the punishment to fit such heinous crimes as the inappropriate treatment of children by a Priest result in automatic defrocking.

Robertson’s appearance at the LSE was met with huge applause from a packed audience, and the first round of questions when he had finished his 45 minute talk looked to testify the fact that he had almost universal support in the room. But the second round proved rather different. A man, who went nameless, accused Robertson of mishandling his information: “5% have been accused” the man said, in response to the speaker’s earlier use of statistics, “not found guilty”.

In reply to something Robertson opened on, the anonymous man retorted that “Canonical law is not a parallel law [to the rule of law practised in most countries, but it] only deals with issues inside the church [the charge that it cannot involve police or civil law] is utter nonsense”. To everyone’s disappointment of a meaty dialogue between the speaker and the angry audience member, Robertson instead told him to buy his book and observe the appendix at the back explaining the operation of Canon Law – leaving it at that.

Another major point of contention between the speaker and his angry audience member related to something Robertson spoke of at some length, and is indeed the main element of charge levelled at the Pope and the accusation that he covered up abuse in the church. That element is the infamous “H” – now, of course, known to be Father Peter Hullermann.

Tristana Moore for Time magazine reported that Father Hullermann had been assigned to the Western city of Essen, Germany, in the 1970s where in 1979 he forced an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex on him. Instead of being reported to the civil authorities he was sent to undertake psychotherapy with Dr Werner Huth, where he was diagnosed as a narcissist like other paedophiles.

Ratzinger at the time was Archbishop of Munich, a post he served from 1977-1982. Owing to this, and the fact that many profiles of him suggest he was a notorious micro-manager (Johann Hari, for example, and “a reader” of the Atlantic), accusations go forth on Ratzinger for having allowed a known paedophile to be moved from Essen to receive treatment in Munich – which Ratzinger reportedly approved of.

Since then, Father Gerhard Gruber, the then Vicar-General of the Munich Archdiocese, has taken responsibility for employing Hullermann from February 1980 until August 1982, and assigning him elsewhere – leading some to believe that Gruber has been scapegoated to protect the Pope.

This point cannot be substantiated upon, neither can the point about Ratzinger’s micro-management being reason to believe he knew of every odious act taking place in Catholic circles (no pun intended) in Germany, therefore to pontificate (an intentional pun) about it is purely conjecture.

While Hullermann made his way to Munich, a Jesuit Priest in Essen sent Dr Huth a letter informing him about Hullermann’s paedophilia before the Priest underwent therapy. Dr Huth set three conditions for Hullermann’s continued work; 1) he is not to work with children; 2) he is not to drink alcohol (for the reason that he used alcohol when abusing children); and 3) he has at his side at all times a mentor.

The same Time magazine article as cited above notes that Dr Huth made this clear to church officials, including to the auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising. But these condition were not met and in 1986 Hullermann abused another minor, for which he received an 18-month suspended sentence, before returning to the church carrying out pastoral duties.

In 2008, Dr Huth had been contacted and told that Hullermann was working with children in the Bavarian town of Garching an der Alz, supervising 150 alter boys. Huth quickly consulted with church officials, after which Hullermann was moved to the Spa town of Bad Tölz and made in charge of counselling services for tourists and visitors.

What all this proves is a series of very serious errors by individuals at the time. The same has been said by many others, even those who seek to clear the name of the current Pope, such as Thomas Bridge, who said recently:

I am not denying there were failings – at both the local and at the Vatican level – to get to grips with the problem […] It [however] does appear that on the abuse issue at least [Pope Benedict] is devoting more time to actions than perhaps he is to words.

This sentiment is shared among many, who do not seek to excuse the actions of the Priests involved in abuse, but know that to claim Pope Benedict was complicit in its cover up is a point unable to be substantiated upon.

Of course, for those who say cover ups would have benefited the Pope – inasmuch as, in the words of Geoffrey Robertson referring to the report made by Judge Yvonne Murphy into the Sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin, it’s about keeping the good name of the church and Priests from scandal – this all runs contrary to the work carried out by Ratzinger outing child molesters in the church later on, initiating “strict new norms for dealing with sexual abuse cases”, and in his words “ridding the filth”.

Certainly the point that Benny has done a good deal addressing child abuse in the Catholic church is not lost on some of the nations top Catholic writers. Damian Thompson reminds us that it was Benedict who prosecuted Mexican paedophile Priest Marcial Maciel Degollado despite pressure from popular support, including “Cardinal Angelo Sodano and John Paul’s secretary, Msgr (now Cardinal) Stanislaw Dziwisz.”

Some members of the church were keen to shove the issue to one side for the reason that Degollado was a ferocious fundraiser, having secured assets worth around twenty-five billion Euros. In a line that can hardly be matched for its dry wit, Thompson notes that: “This old pervert was the most effective fundraiser in the history of the Church – and the most crooked since Judas Iscariot.”

Elsewhere, Thompson cannot hardly keep his dislike of the Pope John Paul II contained. In an article bound to wind up many supporters of the previous Pope, citing heavily from noteworthy writer John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, the Vatican has not revealed the real Ratzinger story because “to make Ratzinger look good, they’d have to make others look bad [and] to salvage the reputation of Benedict XVI it might be necessary to tarnish that of Pope John Paul II”.

It is obviously not unknown to Thompson that:

In 2004, John Paul – ignoring the canon law charges against Maciel – honored him in a Vatican ceremony in which he entrusted the Legion [of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement] with the administration of Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Center, an education and conference facility. The following week, Ratzinger took it on himself to authorize an investigation of Maciel.

It is interesting how some have it that in order for the present Pope to retain his good name, others like Fr Gruber must be scapegoated, whereas for others the Vatican downplays the Pope’s good name to a degree in order to retain John Paul II with any dignity at all.

Thompson goes further still. In a piece, with a title also likely to have stirred crazy Pope John Paul’s supporters – Pope John Paul II ignored Ratzinger’s pleas to pursue sex abuse Cardinal – he begins:

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger tried to persuade Pope John Paul II to mount a full investigation into a cardinal who abused boys and young monks, one of the Church’s most senior figures revealed yesterday. But Ratzinger’s opponents in the Vatican managed to block the inquiry. As the future Benedict XVI put it: “The other side won.”

The pervert cardinal was the late Hans Hermann Groer, removed as Archbishop of Vienna in 1995 following sex allegations. The source for the story is Groer’s successor in Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, an intellectual whom some commentators have tipped as a possible future Pope.

That’s quite a revelation, in my book – but it doesn’t fit the script that the Benedict-hating media have written, so we’re not hearing too much about it.

The point being that Ratzinger was not someone who simply wanted to brush all things scandalous under the carpet, he was not deterred by popular sentiment when outing child molesters. This is not a character trait of his that is spoken about too much, now that he is touring the UK.

Furthermore, key officials point out that keeping secrecy about church matters does not exempt bishops from reporting such unpalatable cases to the civil authorities – much like keeping a company’s secrets secret does not in any way mean they can remain unaccounted for by the law. Mgr Charles Scicluna, for example, speaking to Gianni Cardinale, has said that:

In some countries with an Anglo-Saxon legal culture, but also in France, the bishops – if they become aware of crimes committed by their priests outside the sacramental seal of Confession – are obliged to report them to the judicial authorities. We’re dealing with an onerous duty because these bishops are forced to make a gesture comparable to that of a parent who denounces his or her own son. Nonetheless, our instruction in these cases is to respect the law.

Back on the subject of Munich, after Dr Huth had found out about Hullermann working in Bad Tölz and had finished consulting with a church official, Hullermann was suspended of all duties, while the Archdiocese of Munich and Friesing admitted breaking church orders to ban Hullermann from all duties, and Hullermann’s superior, prelate Josef Obermaier, stepped down assuming responsibility for “grave errors”.

Grave errors indeed have been made, but to this day, no evidence has been brought to the table which can affirm the present Pope had any input or complicity in the covering up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The law as regards the Pope

To strengthen his case against the Pope, Geoffrey Robertson calls into question the Holy See being designated as a state. In his article for the Guardian entitled Put the Pope in the Dock, he notes that:

papal states were extinguished by invasion in 1870 and the Vatican was created by fascist Italy in 1929 when Mussolini endowed this tiny enclave – 0.17 of a square mile containing 900 Catholic bureaucrats – with “sovereignty in the international field … in conformity with its traditions and the exigencies of its mission in the world”.

During the public seminar at the LSE, Robertson says that the Vatican fails to contain even the most basic tenet of a state: people. Looking at the issue Dapo Akande, writing for the European Journal of International Law, says that:

The size of population or territory are irrelevant for the purposes of Statehood. What is important is that the entity possesses those criteria as well as the two other criteria for Statehood – which are: a government in effective control of the territory and independence (or what is called “capacity to enter into legal relations” in the words of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States 1935)

Since the Holy See meets those other criteria it is legitimately a state. Nations such as Great Britain could kick up a fuss if they wanted, but it is not likely. The Pope, as a Head of State, therefore enjoys immunity under section 20 of the UK’s State Immunity Act (1978). In reply to the question Christopher Hitchens asked in May this year – Is the Vatican a Sovereign State? – the answer that Akande would give is “even if the Vatican is not a State, the Holy See (as a separate entity) has a special status in international law which gives it rights that are in some cases analogous to sovereign rights.” But regardless, whether Robertson, or anyone else, agrees or not, the Pope is a Head of the State of the Holy See, making the legalities of arresting him in this country extremely unlikely.

But actually, Robertson probably realises this. During the question and answer session at the LSE, an audience member enquired as to how one would operate an arrest on the Pope. Robertson, not expecting such a frank question, answered that one would probably have to do it under international criminal law in a country where the principles of universal jurisdiction are held, citing Germany or Belgium, but ruling out applicability to the UK (though this is a point of much contention, the debate of which Joshua Rozenburg recently added to). One would have to file crimes against humanity for the widespread systematic abuse of children and the doctrine of command responsibility, used against Charles Taylor and Slobodan Milošević, which is in article 27 of the Rome Treaty, where the commander of a state is liable irrespective of official capacity in the crime. The article itself reads thus:

  1. This Statute shall apply equally to all persons without any distinction based on official capacity. In particular, official capacity as a Head of State or Government, a member of a Government or parliament, an elected representative or a government official shall in no case exempt a person from criminal responsibility under this Statute, nor shall it, in and of itself, constitute a ground for reduction of sentence.
  2. Immunities or special procedural rules which may attach to the official capacity of a person, whether under national or international law, shall not bar the Court from exercising its jurisdiction over such a person.

Though surely, as the blogger at Heresy Corner seems to imply in an entry entitled Dawkins and the Pope, the judicial initiative would have to come from the country where the abuse took place, and further, as the blogger on the Church Mouse blog notes, the international criminal court (ICC) has no retrospective jurisdiction prior to its creation in 2002, and public or private prosecutions brought against Pope Benedict would first have to convince the Crown Prosecution Service that he was somehow responsible.

Even some of those most stridently against the Pope, PZ Myers for instance, accept that the likelihood of an arrest is low. Though Myers himself, commenting on the Heresy Corner comments thread, said that: “I don’t think anything will come of [the legal threats levelled against the Pope], either…but the effort should be made”.

Never wanting to be one spoiling the fun of those who demand the impossible, though it is quite clear that the Pope cannot be arrested in this country. However those who think he can be, should certainly stop complaining about how much the security is going to cost the taxpayer of this country (such as Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, who, recalls Andrew Brown, said on the comments thread of an article by Brown that “the security costs alone for the visit would far dwarf the £20m it will otherwise cost” – despite the fact that they will cost around £1.5m).

Which leaves me to quickly conclude this part by saying that since Theos – the public theology think-tank – found in an online poll of 2,005 adult Britons that77% do not agree the taxpayer should help shoulder the bill for the four-day trip even though it is a state visit” and that “76% rejected [sic] taxpayer funding for the visit on the grounds that he is a religious figure” in order for this to be credible, all heads of state from any country should pay for themselves to make visits – maybe this should be worth considering.

Opposition to the views of Pope Benedict

According to Geoffrey Robertson in his public seminar, doctors in El Salvador must report to the police women who try to self-terminate their foetuses. Currently 1000 women await trial. Condom packets in Brazil are apparently stamped with a warning that they offer no protection against AIDS – these measures are not taken in the name of received wisdom, but are in the name of Catholicism. And it is right and necessary for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to oppose it.

A few days ago human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell made a documentary where he demonstrated the reasons why Catholics and non-Catholics should vehemently oppose the teachings of the current Pope.

He noted in the film that once upon a time Ratzinger was a very liberal academic theologian, well placed to promote the values of Vatican II – the hub of reformist Catholic sentiment. But his views began to change. The ball started rolling when a group of unruly students, at the time protesting in the university Ratzinger was teaching in, broke into the lecture theatre where Ratzinger was delivering a seminar, making a “profound impact” upon the future Pope. It was here, as Tatchell implies with input from Hans Künga former friend of Ratzingerthat Ratzinger began to appeal to more conservative thinking and started to become alienated with democratic procedures, thus “rolling back the liberalism of Vatican II”.

Tatchell’s parting shot is that Pope Benedict wants to shape the church in to his own conservative views – something Peter Hitchens recently warned right wing Anglicans not to be too impressed by, since a good deal of left wing Catholics are doing their best to make sure Benedict’s visit to the UK is a bad one; thus ensuring the death knell of conservative coloured Catholicism.

Damian Thompson, this time in his scathing critique of Tatchell’s documentary, says that:

The teachings of the Catholic Church on sexual morality are NOT innovations of Joseph Ratzinger. He inherited them, he is faithful to them, and even if he wished to permit artificial birth control, abortion or extra-marital sexual acts he could not do so.

This of course is very weak argument. Either you oppose the views of Ratzinger, or you dismiss his level of nonchalance. But for someone like Thompson, who has otherwise praised Ratzinger for his getting the job done on rooting out paedophile Priests, and his overturning the non-commitment of John Paul II, this is not the same character profile of Ratzinger who stays faithful to views he opposes – because this must be Thompson’s point: he cannot change those things he inherits, but would if he could do so. Otherwise, it is entirely acceptable to oppose the views of Ratzinger, since they are likely to be very similar on artificial birth control, abortion or extra-marital sexual acts as that of the Church.

And this is the point I would like to end on; claims that Ratzinger was complicit in covering up sexual abuse cannot be substantiated upon; he cannot be arrested as he enjoys the immunity of a Head of State; the Holy See fits the criteria for being a state; but by all means oppose the views of Benedict (or at least the views he has accepted), it is the privilege of Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Unite against the regime of stoning and flogging

Shreen Ayob in her capacity as activist has called for opponents of stoning and flogging to gather to central London tomorrow to join support of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

I have written a few items explaining why the case against Ashtiani is a perversion of justice, and how Iran is practising a judicial system contrary to Islamic teachings.

In my original piece on the case I speak about the exploited use of Article 105 of the Islamic Penal Code of Iran which states “The Shari’a Judge can act upon his own knowledge in the cases of [defending] the God’s Rights and People’s Rights and carry out the punishment constituted by the God and it is necessary that he documents his knowledge.”

Furthermore, I note how Iran, by exploiting a loophole in Islamic law, seems dubious measured against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory. Article 14, paragraph 1 of this convention states that everyone be equal before the law, and be entitled to a fair and public hearing by an impartial tribunal established by law.

In another piece I point out the intimidation felt by Mohammad Mostafaei, the lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, at the hands of Iranian authorities.

In a piece on the Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan I mention the attempts by him and President Lula of Brazil to change Ahmadinejad’s opinion on the case, and their attempts to awaken the will in the Iran President to allow Ashtiani to be extradited to Brazil – an attempt which unfortunately failed.

And lastly, I mention Ashtiani as a reason why the UK left should forget George Galloway and question his support for the Iranian President.

For the pursuit of justice in Iran, I will give my support in Central London tomorrow.