I hear Dawkins and Hitchens are calling that the Pope should be arrested for “crimes against humanity” when he visits the UK later this year.
In evidence, he quotes a case where the Pope, as a cardinal in 1985, allegedly signed a letter arguing that the “good of the universal church” should be considered against the defrocking of an American priest who committed sex offenses against two boys. Dawkins and Hitchens believe he should face criminal proceedings because his “first instinct” was to protect the church rather than the children in its care.
On the one hand, Dawkins and Hitchens are definitely speaking from their anti-religious agendas. Neither of them have ever spoken up for other abused children, say, abused children in British state (secular) children’s homes, or child brides forced to marry older men in Muslim countries. They, as they accuse Pope Benedict XVI of, are fighting for the advancement of their view more than for the sake of molested kids. I harbor no illusions that these two men have suddenly turned into philanthropists, tirelessly working for the good of all children.
On the other hand, concealing child abuse is a crime. But what evidence is there of this alleged crime? In this case, the criminal priest already served his sentence in the 1970’s. Society knew about the crime, the children were heard. After the convicted criminal asked to be defrocked, the Cardinal’s (who is now the Pope) office wrote a letter, signed by him, that the case for removing Kiesle was of “grave significance” but required a careful review and more time to consider. The letter noted that a decision to unfrock him must take into account the “detriment that granting dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly considering the young age”.
Can signing that letter rationally be regarded as concealing child abuse? I think better evidence than that is needed to accuse the Pope of this crime. And was it well-known in the early eighties, just how damaging child sexual abuse could be? If it was less commonly known then, it would be a reason not to judge child molestation concealment in 1985 the same way as concealing this crime now. What did the relevant laws say in 1985 about the responsibility of the employer of a child molester, one that society and law enforcement already know about?
I strongly believe that anyone- no matter who they are- should be prosecuted if they conceal child abuse. But the evidence that Pope Benedict XVI actually did that is not strong enough here. (Or perhaps not strong enough yet?)
PS: All this is academic, of course. As a head of state Pope Benedict XVI have diplomatic immunity.