I have long viewed sporadically gifted journalist Christopher Hitchens as a caricatured bullying buffoon, but until quite recently I admired Richard Dawkins. Years ago I read The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker with fascination, along with the works of fellow biological sciences populariser Stephen Jay Gould. They seemed to me to epitomise scientific rigor and rationalism.
However Dawkins seems to have gone completely off the rails over his atheism obsession. His gratuitously offensive and silly reference to Benedict XVI as “Pope Nazi” at a recent atheists’ conference in Melbourne was bad enough. But now he and Hitchens claim they want to arrest the Pope for ‘crimes against humanity’ for ‘the alleged cover-up of sex abuse in the Catholic Church’.
Leaving aside the fact that it’s highly unlikely that Benedict’s alleged actions (he wrote a letter as a Cardinal in 1985 indicating that moves to defrock a paedophile priest required “very careful review” and more time for investigation) could be classified as a crime against humanity within the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court even if he had ‘covered up’ child abuse, the known facts don’t actually point to the commission of any crime at all by Benedict:
Bishop Cummins said Friday he never had a good feeling about Kiesle. In his 1981 letter to the Vatican, Cummins said it seemed clear, with hindsight, that Kiesle should never have been ordained.
Cummins said the years of back-and-forth with the Vatican tested the diocese’s patience but it was typical of the time.
“These things were slow and their idea of thoroughness was a little more than ours. We were in a situation that was hands on, with personal reaction,” he said.
Only the Vatican can approve removing someone from the priesthood, whether it is requested by the priest or his superiors. At the time of Kiesle’s petition, a variety of Vatican offices handled them. In 2001, Ratzinger required all cases involving abuse claims to go through his office, streamlining the process.
Cummins said he believed Ratzinger was following what was the practice of the time, and “that the Pope John Paul was slowing these things down.”
In the November 1985 letter, Ratzinger says the arguments for removing Kiesle were of “grave significance” but such actions required very careful review and more time. Lena, the Vatican attorney, said Ratzinger’s instruction to offer Kiesle “paternal care” was a way of telling the bishop he was responsible for keeping Kiesle out of trouble. Lena said Kiesle was not accused of any child abuse in the 5 1/2 years it took for the Vatican to act on the laicization.
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said the letter showed no attempt at a cover-up.
“The then-Cardinal Ratzinger didn’t cover up the case, but as the letter clearly shows, made clear the need to study the case with more attention, taking into account the good of all involved,” he said.
Benedict’s actions certainly bespeak the Church’s familiar (and repugnant) response to priestly child abuse of being more concerned about protecting the institution than caring for child victims, but they don’t amount to a crime. That is especially so given that the priest Kiesle was not accused or suspected of a child abuse offence at the time of Benedict’s 1985 letter (he had already served a term of probation for a 1978 offence) and that therefore almost by definition Benedict was not urging that anything be “covered up”.
I’m not in any sense condoning the Church’s inaction or that of Benedict/Ratzinger. Indeed the Catholic Church’s longstanding failure to take priestly child sexual abuse seriously led me to cease attending Mass every week about a decade ago and revert to my previous lapsed, alienated Catholic status. However, the idiotic assertions of Dawkins and Hitchens simply discredit them as credible voices in any serious debate. Sadly, it seems that my rationalist hero Dawkins is just a self-promoting, publicity-seeking wanker, a pathetic male version of faded feminist guru Germaine Greer (whose latest bid for a headline at any price has been to reveal that she had a one night stand with Federico Fellini 35 years ago).