Yet another illusion shattered …

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).

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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11 years ago

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this but you got punk’d.

Needless to say, I did NOT say “I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI” or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself.

What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope’s proposed visit to Britain. Beyond that, I declined to comment to Marc Horme, other than to refer him to my ‘Ratzinger is the Perfect Pope’ article here: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5341

Here is what really happened. Christopher Hitchens first proposed the legal challenge idea to me on March 14th. I responded enthusiastically, and suggested the name of a high profile human rights lawyer whom I know. I had lost her address, however, and set about tracking her down. Meanwhile, Christopher made the brilliant suggestion of Geoffrey Robertson. He approached him, and Mr Robertson’s subsequent ‘Put the Pope in the Dock’ article in The Guardian shows him to be ideal:
http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5366
The case is obviously in good hands, with him and Mark Stephens. I am especially intrigued by the proposed challenge to the legality of the Vatican as a sovereign state whose head can claim diplomatic immunity.

Even if the Pope doesn’t end up in the dock, and even if the Vatican doesn’t cancel the visit, I am optimistic that we shall raise public consciousness to the point where the British government will find it very awkward indeed to go ahead with the Pope’s visit, let alone pay for it.

Richard

http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5415

Adam
Adam
11 years ago

You might also put down Geoffrey Robertson in your pantheon of “shattered illusions” too?

James Farrell
James Farrell
11 years ago

Ken

Dawkins is becoming a bit too shrill even for my taste, but I think he’s the wrong target if you want to challenge the legal logic behind the project to ‘arrest’ Pope Bendict. It’s Geoffrey Robertsonin the media who will be making the legal case both and in court. I don’t have the time or the expertise to delve into the issues myself, but seems evident that it isn’t just about Father Kiesle, nor is it necessarily about criminal prosecution, far less ‘crimes against humanity’ — a concept Robertson knows a bit about, and doesn’t invoke in the piece I linked. This paragraph gives the flavour:

the US, 11,750 allegations of child sex abuse have so far featured in actions settled by archdioceses – in Los Angeles for $660m and in Boston for $100m. But some dioceses have gone into bankruptcy and some claimants want higher level accountability – two reasons to sue the pope in person. In 2005 a test case in Texas failed because the Vatican sought and obtained the intercession of President Bush, who agreed to claim sovereign (ie head of state) immunity on the pope’s behalf. Bush lawyer John B Bellinger III certified that Pope Benedict the XVI was immune from suit “as the head of a foreign state”.

Given your declared disgust at the Vatican’s handling sexual abuse, and if it’s true that the organisation has hidden behind international law, do you have in mind an alternative avenue to make them accountable?

James Farrell
James Farrell
11 years ago

Sorry, my second sentence should read: It’s Geoffrey Robertson who will be making the legal case both in the media and in court.

Yobbo
Yobbo
11 years ago

“Bush lawyer John B Bellinger III certified that Pope Benedict the XVI was immune from suit “as the head of a foreign state”.”

I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be treated as such. The vatican is it’s own nation in every other way, and if the Pope is not the head of it then who is?

Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
11 years ago

I’ve always found Dawkins’s manner that of an unctuous schoolboy, though when he talks about biology he can of course be fascinating.

And I’ve had a go at him at what I regard as his infantile demolition of religion. To discover that religion doesn’t stack up as science is no great discovery, and might be handled in a short article. To write a book hammering the same point over and over just underlines his hunger for publicity. But it’s got progressively worse it seems.

What pisses me off, and what I’ve actually been thinking of writing a post about – but have held off because the post would only have the content of this comment – is the fuss that’s being made of Dawkins in the media. He’s endlessly reported. Well if he were adding to his arguments perhaps he could be worth the attention. But Dawkins always says the same thing, and has been doing so relentlessly since he published GodDel.

The kinds of religious nonsense he takes on – in which he pits Darwin and science against creationism have about as much interest for me as they would someone arguing for creationism, or the flying spaghetti monster theory of history.

He’s made his point, can we please move on.

NPOV
NPOV
11 years ago

I’m not really a big fan of Dawkins in his anti-religious mode (much as I agree with him, he just doesn’t come across as doing the cause all that much good), but I’m not so sure it’s fair to judge him on this particular instance. This is worth reading:

http://friendlyatheist.com/2010/04/11/richard-dawkins-is-not-arresting-the-pope/

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

“I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be treated as such. The vatican is it’s own nation in every other way, and if the Pope is not the head of it then who is?”

I think the argument is that the Pope shouldn’t be treated as such because the Vatican isn’t recongized as a state by the UN.

Alan
Alan
11 years ago

Benedict’s involvement goes far beyond a letter to a cardinal. John Paul II was obsessed with a cult of authority and the need to re-impose order in the church. Part of that meant slowing the rate at which priests were laicised and requiring that all laicisations be referred to the curia.

Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, executed this policy as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. First we were told that as archbishop Ratzinger was not responsible for the retention and acceptance of abusive priests by his own archdiocese. Now we are being told that as prefect Ratzinger was not responsible for the retention of abusive priests by his own congregation. It is really hard to see how either argument holds water.

I do not think arresting Benedict is justified at this point. But to dismiss any possibility of Benedict’s criminal liability out of hand and accept curial double-talk as gospel is a tad premature. In particular, it’s hard to read decisions like Pinochet Number 2 and repeat that Benedict enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution because he is a chief of state.

Tim
Tim
11 years ago

Ken, couple of pts. Dawkins didn’t say what the headline said he said about “arresting the pope” (see here)

Also, he didn’t refer to Benedict XVI as Pope Nazi (see here)

Tysen Woodlock
Tysen Woodlock
11 years ago

Yeah, it seems that Dawkins merely approves of the action rather than being a force behind the move (http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5415). And Tim above is right about the remark about Pope Nazi referring to Pius XII.

As for the other stuff, I lost respect for the man when I listened to his book The God Delusion in audiobook format with Richard himself providing the voice.

I think the main people that should be criticised are Hitchens and Robertson. Robertson appears to have been hired by Hitchens and produced an article that appears to have been the product of a 5 minutes Google search session. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/apr/02/pope-legal-immunity-international-law)

BUNSEN
BUNSEN
11 years ago

Nicholas Gruen said: “I’ve always found Dawkins’s manner that of an unctuous schoolboy, though when he talks about biology he can of course be fascinating.”
What can I say Nick. Just invite him home. turn on the sound system, have him sit down on the sofa and ply him with a few glasses and the odd spliff.
I’m sure that the unctuous schoolboy part of his character will prevail and before you know it things will become fascinating.
It may be that you both might reflect and regret it in the morning; but What the Hey – life is what but a learning curve?

I make the point that perhaps we’re all fallible and except for the extremely unlucky, the plug ugly, and those with no sense of adventure at all – most of us have some post- prandial or post-coital reservations and regrets.

So what if some little spark of personal memory or some remembered incident has the Pontiff acting with reserve.
I’m sure he’s perfectly aware that he’s not infallible.

Meanwhile out there in our so fantastic society the peanut rush go out and get pie-faced at the drop of the hat.
Wake up next afternoon swearing that they must’ve had a good time – couldn’t remember a thing.

And in short order about 50% of them end up up the duff with blood tests and DNA required to sort out who’s responsible for what?
It is not an ideal world and does come back in some way to some level of forgiveness for those poor lonely priests.
‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ – remains a concept worthy at least of consideration.

Alan
Alan
11 years ago

The priest at the centre of this particular allegation had victims as young as 7. His victims did not meet him over a few drinks at the pub and wake up the next morning wondering what they’d done. I do not doubt many Troppodillians have done stupid things after a night at the pub. I do doubt many of them have done sexual things with 7 year olds after a night on the turps.

Blaming the victim while invoking the first stone is really not all that persuasive. although it seems to be the current spin strategy of the hierarchy. I doubt Ken would advise a criminal client facing an allegation of child sexual assault to advance a similar defence to the court.

Yobbo
Yobbo
11 years ago

I think the argument is that the Pope shouldn’t be treated as such because the Vatican isn’t recongized as a state by the UN.

Neither is Taiwan.

anthony
anthony
11 years ago

Wow. Two ‘facts’ about Dawkins, both wrong. And both have been clearly refuted, repeatedly, well before this post was made. I’m quite disappointed (I think this is one of the few times, if ever, I’ve commented here, despite reading it for several years). The googles is your friend.

Short version: No, “Pope Nazi” wasn’t about Ratzinger, it was about Pius XII. And the “arrest the pope” was a newscorp beatup. Roll on the newscorp paywall, I say.

I’d actually say this deserves a correction to the text of the post.

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

“neither is Taiwan.”

I guess that means they think they can take the president of Taiwan to court also. Beats me if they really can.

Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

I think the argument is that the Pope shouldn’t be treated as such because the Vatican isn’t recongized as a state by the UN.

Not quite – the Vatican’s status at the UN is ambiguous. According to Wikipedia it’s a “non-member observer state”:

Non-member observer states are recognized as sovereign entities, and are free to submit a petition to join as a full member at their discretion. For example, Switzerland was a permanent observer state from 1948 to 2002, until becoming a full member on September 10, 2002. Currently, the only such state, the Holy See, is described as a “Non-member State having received a standing invitation to participate as observer in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly and maintaining permanent observer mission at Headquarters”. (emphasis added)

As of 2004 the Holy See has all the rights of full membership of the UN, except voting in the General Assembly. That includes the right to participate and vote in UN conferences.

Yobbo
Yobbo
11 years ago

I guess that means they think they can take the president of Taiwan to court also. Beats me if they really can.

My point being that the UN is not the final authority on such things. In actuality whether someone is considered a “head of state” or not differs from country to country.

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

I guess we need a specialist on EU law then! However if there was some country that used the UN definition, then presumably you could take people to court and if you won it would basically exclude that person coming to your country given they would be arrested if they did (reminds me a bit of Roman Polanski, where he was able to exist in some places but not others).

BUNSEN
BUNSEN
11 years ago

I can’t believe this.
Most of you above talk about whether the Pontiff may be brought some court of adequate jurisdiction.
It seems to me that morals, merits, custom or precedent doesn’t count.
There really is something wrong there, with your logic paths and with the underlying base concept of humanity.

munroe
munroe
11 years ago

It’s such a cheap publicity stunt, and so blatantly motivated by a desire to discredit the church (as opposed to protecting children) that it doesn’t warrant discussion, except to say “pfftt.”
Tysen:
As for the other stuff, I lost respect for the man when I listened to his book The God Delusion in audiobook format with Richard himself providing the voice.

I’m curious. Why did that book make you lose respect for him? Was it the ‘soft target’ approach to attacking theism? The lack of coverage of the arguments of living theologians? Please elaborate.

BUNSEN
BUNSEN
11 years ago

Hey Munroe =
Cheap attacks upon public figures is what the media is all about.Had you forgotten that, my lad?
Public interest don’t count.
The other side of that coin is that the media don’t care at all about issues of concern to society unless its the bung-ho local free newspaper prepared to make a solid citizen look like a complete dolt.
Public interest don’t count becoz the public does so enjoy the circus of a tall poppy getting lopped.

I don’t know where it begins or ends other than in ignorance but I had some idiot from the local paper quiz me yesterday about a new tobacco tax.
I quizzed him myself and when he couldn’t tell me who Robin Hood was I hog-tied him to the closest street sign and pinched his shorthand notebook.
My little effort will count for nothing since I doubt whether they’ll notice if he’ll ever get back to the office or not.
I suspect he’ll perish in the street.

Meanwhile the Pontiff gets crucified.
But didn’t he know the risk when he accepted the job?
In my previous I said this –
“I can’t believe this.
Most of you above talk about whether the Pontiff may be brought some court of adequate jurisdiction.
It seems to me that morals, merits, custom or precedent doesn’t count.
There really is something wrong there, with your logic paths and with the underlying base concept of humanity.”
Despite it being ‘under moderation’ I’ll copy it and would urge you to take some small comfort from my words.

daddy dave
daddy dave
11 years ago

“Cheap attacks upon public figures is what the media is all about.Had you forgotten that, my lad?”

Sure, but let’s call it what it is.

BUNSEN
BUNSEN
11 years ago

Heyo Dave,
How about enlightening us then?
Please.
“Sure, but let’s call it what it is.” – unless I’m missing something there is a tad brief.

Roger Migently
11 years ago

What a load of grumpy-old-man pearl clutching and pitiful “don’t-offend-them” accommodationism this all is. I am so disappointed in Ken for this post.
The Pope deserves no special consideration whatever just because he believes in talking snakes and sky hooks, any more than I would for believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Pope may be devout but he deserves no special respect just because he devoutly has faith in irrational nonsense.
In contrast to Pastafarians, however, the organisation he presides over has always caused, and continues to cause, immense harm and suffering in the world, notably throughout Africa today. His religion, as are almost all religions, is dangerous and the Pope is therefore a deserved target of people like Dawkins, Hitchens, Myers and Harris. If someone is causing harm it is appropriate to call attention to that and to attempt to stop them doing it. But if they don’t stop it, is it really right to say, “Ah, well, I think I’ve made my point. Time to move on”, as Nicholas suggests?
As Emile Zola said, “Civilisation will not attain perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest.” And there’s a long way to go.

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[…] responded to the ‘Pope arrest’ meme, decided a few days ago to take a swipe at Dawkins for claiming he was going to arrest Ratzinger and for calling him a Nazi. Which as  previously established, Dawkins didn’t do. “…the idiotic assertions […]