Put the pope on trial (literally)? Possibly in several jurisdictions
British legal expert Geoffrey Robertson QC with painstaking care argues in the Guardian that the Vatican is not a state, the pope is not immune to prosecution and crimes appear to have been committed:
The truly shocking finding of Judge Murphy’s commission in Ireland was not merely that sexual abuse was “endemic” in boys’ institutions but that the church hierarchy protected the perpetrators and, despite knowledge of their propensity to reoffend, allowed them to take up new positions teaching other children after their victims had been sworn to secrecy.
This conduct, of course, amounted to the criminal offence of aiding and abetting sex with minors. In legal actions against Catholic archdioceses in the US it has been alleged that the same conduct reflected Vatican policy as approved by Cardinal Ratzinger (as the pope then was) as late as November 2002. Sexual assaults were regarded as sins that were subject to church tribunals, and guilty priests were sent on a “pious pilgrimage” while oaths of confidentiality were extracted from their victims.
The claim to immunity is under challenge in the U.S, and Robertson argues:
This claim could be challenged successfully in the UK and in the European Court of Human Rights.
But in any event, head of state immunity provides no protection for the pope in the international criminal court (see its current indictment of President Bashir). The ICC Statute definition of a crime against humanity includes rape and sexual slavery and other similarly inhumane acts causing harm to mental or physical health, committed against civilians on a widespread or systematic scale, if condoned by a government or a de facto authority. It has been held to cover the recruitment of children as soldiers or sex slaves. If acts of sexual abuse by priests are not isolated or sporadic, but part of a wide practice both known to and unpunished by their de facto authority then they fall within the temporal jurisdiction of the ICC – if that practice continued after July 2002, when the court was established.
Certainly the Pope deserves and is granted respect as a spiritual leader. Because that does not automatically confer upon him the rights of an immune sovereign, the once imponderable likelihood of some overarching resolution in a court of earthly law now seems reasonable.
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