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Book Review: The Case of The Pope by Geoffrey Robertson QC

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The Catholic church is in crisis. Recruitment numbers for the priesthood are dropping, and congregations are falling away in droves. The recent visit of the Pope to the UK was met by much smaller crowds than anticipated, with attendances over 40% below the expected level.

For years, there have been investigations into child abuse with a substantial number of cases being settled out of court, a rising bill that already exceed a billion dollars. It is known that a very large number of these serial child abusers were protected by the church, and were subsequently moved to new parishes or countries, where they re-offended. Child rapists were permitted to stay in the church, re-offending and being tolerated, and in some cases, even being promoted and moved to positions of greater responsibility. And not a whisper about their vile criminal activities.

Many are asking how it is possible for such widespread criminal activity to be hidden from the legal authorities by the church. Many are asking how the church can continue to justify its appalling neglect of the interests of the children in its care. To answer these questions, we need to understand something about how the Catholic church manages its internal affairs.

Geoffrey Robertson QC guides us through the arcane logic of a religious institution steeped in secrecy and dogma, which maintains a hidden world ruled by Papal edicts and threats of excommunication.

Just about the worst thing possible for a Catholic is the act of excommunication, a rejection of them by the church, a very public condemnation and exclusion. For young people who have been brought up to see the priest as the representative of God, the threat of excommunication is a very powerful mechanism of control. But the very existence of the rules by which the church operates, called Canon Law, is supposed to be kept secret.

Canon Law is a set of rules for dealing with the misbehaviour of members of the church and it wasn’t codified formally until 1917 and then it was revised in 1983. The procedural rules were issued as a “secret of the Holy Office” in 1922 which meant that anyone disclosing the contents would be immediately excommunicated. That’s right, the rules were secret and the only reason that Catholics generally became aware of them at all was because they were leaked in 2003 to lawyers for US victims of child abuse. These rules are in Latin and seem to have been sent only to bishops, so they were never intended for the Catholic public.

Canon Law is regarded by the Vatican as overruling any state or federal laws, or any international law, and that means Catholic church officials will operate under total secrecy to deal with matters such as child abuse internally, without any referral to state or local authorities.

Rather like the omerta of the Mafia, the rules operate in total secrecy and everything covered by them is kept away from the eyes of the normal judicial authorities. Offences are judged by methods not normally accepted as fair justice, and sentences are handed down and carried out without any public acknowledgement.

But what judgements? What sentences? Until the contents of the Canon Law were seen, no-one was in a position to review the actions of the catholic church in dealing with child abusers in its midst. The shroud of Canon Law meant that a youngster raising the complaint that they were being abused would be required at the point of making the complaint, to swear to secrecy on pain of excommunication. All those involved in any enquiry or handling of the complaint were similarly sworn to secrecy.  The records were locked away in Vatican vaults.

If there was any justice to be had, it would be invisible. Those making the complaints were prevented from talking about it for 10 years, now raised to 20. Their only recourse was to trust the church to handle the complaint, and for themselves to keep silent. But what actually happened when complaints were made?

The Crimen Sollicitationis, which lists child abuse as one of the “unspeakable crimes” describes how two character witnesses who know the defendent are to be sworn in to testify. They swear an oath of secrecy. The defendant himself is never required to take an oath or to tell the truth. If he confesses, or inadvertently gives details of a criminal offence, Canon Law forbids the judge from noting it. An incredible standard of conduct for an apparent investigation of child abuse.

The whole process is geared to enabling the perpetrator to repent and mend his ways, without any effective punishment or control to prevent re-offense.  The procedure is not at all about justice, about holding the perpetrator to account.  There is no forensic or medical examination, no cross-examination, no court procedure, in fact nothing that would indicate a serious investigation of crime at all.  Everything is geared towards looking after the priest who has been caught.  Nothing in the process recognises that a criminal act has been exposed which demands police involvement.

But what of the penalties for those found guilty? Surely at the very least, they would be defrocked, kicked out of the priesthood, banned from any contact with children, handed over to the police? Not a bit of it. They are given the following: “chiefly spiritual exercises to be made for a certain number of days in some religious house, with suspension from the celebration of mass during that period”. Sometimes, they could be sent for internal rehabilitation, but what is missing here is any sense that a crime has been committed.

The belief that this is an internal moral problem affecting the priest overrides any concern for the victims of the crime. Instead of acknowledging the criminal behaviour and the legal responsibility to report it, and the moral responsibility to hold the perpetrator accountable in law, the church considers it a matter of sin on the part of the priest. All efforts are geared towards restoring the priests spiritual status.

So we have an institution that convinces itself that it is above the law, need not respect local and state legislation, is able to redefine crime committed on its premises as a private matter, coerces witnesses and victims to remain silent on pain of excommunication, and which totally refuses to cooperate with legal authorities. Tony Soprano would recognise them as kindred spirits.

But on what possible basis could the Vatican claim to be able to operate its own parallel legal system? How does that fit with international law? Can the Pope seriously claim immunity? The issue now arises because many of the victims are claiming compensation. Religious bodies have different legal status in different jurisdictions. Some are defined as legal entities, liable for the actions of their employees, whereas others have no legal “personality” at all, and therefore cannot be sued.

In some cases, the Catholic church has allowed its dioceses to go bankrupt to avoid claims for compensation. But this only points to the Vatican as the next potential target. What then is the legal status of the Vatican, of the Holy See, and the Pope himself? As the CEO of the the world Catholic organisation, one would think that he has ultimate responsibility, but then there’s the awkward question of papal infallibility, which inhibits Catholic politicians from raising the issue.

In fact, the Vatican claims that it, and/or the Holy See, constitutes a state. But this is problematic because although the Vatican has exploited every possible avenue to claim representation in the UN and on its committees, pushing a dogmatic religious agenda, it fails miserably to meet the conditions for statehood laid down by the 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States, the acid test applied internationally.

To be a state in international law, you have to have a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, the capacity to enter into relations with other states, and a few other conditions including the ability to police your territory. But the Vatican is actually a palace surrounded by gardens and museums. It has no permanent population, doesn’t require a passport, is policed by the Italian state, and even the palace guards are Swiss. All of its services are provided by the city in which is exists, namely Rome.

The Holy See has, by definition, no population at all. There is no citizenship. Anyone who works in the Vatican does so because they have rights accorded under Italian law to be there. In law, the “territory” of the Vatican is nonsensical – it is a palace owned by the Pope. A state has to be sovereign over its territory but any crime committed in the Vatican is dealt with by the Italian judicial system. Even the Vatican Embassy has no power.

Similarly, there does not exist any government of the state. There is only a proprietor. As to the fourth condition of statehood, the only way that the Vatican can enter into relations with states is in the same way any NGO can do so, by means of a Concordat, an agreement which even a private individual can make.

The pretensions to statehood stem from a very shady deal, the Lateran Treaty, made by the Vatican to support Mussolini in exchange for concessions in 1929. This was far from a Treaty in the legal sense: it was a local arrangement between the Italian state and a church. Nevertheless, the Vatican promotes itself as a state based on this agreement.

As Geoffrey Robertson points out though, we should consider other hypothetical cases to check the validity of this position. “Would the world recognise Mecca as a state if Saudi Arabia negotiated a Lateran-style treaty with its religious leader in order to further an extreme Wahabi ‘mission to the world’? Would we be happy to welcome the Holy City of Qom into the councils of the UN if President Ahmadinejad were to negotiate a Lateran-style treaty with its senior Ayatollah?”

The international legal position of the Vatican, the Holy See, and the Pope is being used to claim state immunity from prosecution. Shrouded in secrecy, evading the jurisdiction of states, and with mounting evidence of an institutional disregard for the safety and rights of children in its care, the catholic church stands accused of breaching very many of the treaties is has signed in its guise as a quasi-state. Robertson argues that if we take the Vatican claims to statehood seriously, then we should act on its systematic breach of international law.

It could be suspended from the committees of the UN, and be held to account for its breaches.  States could withdraw its diplomats from the Vatican.  The UN could insist that Canon Law be updated to include the provisions of human rights to ensure that Vatican secrecy can never again protect criminals inside the catholic church.  The Congregation of the Defence of the Faith would have to open its archives to expose the evidence of the cover-up, the systematic protection of paedophiles.

If on the other hand, the Catholic church wants to evade its international responsibilities, then we should treat it as any other NGO and hold its chief executive as ultimately responsible. Either way, the church has to be held to account. As more evidence comes to light, the sheer horror of the scale of the cover-up beggars belief. We may never know the full extent but it is not unreasonable to consider it a crime against humanity.

How many people have been abused by Catholic priests? It is difficult to get an accurate number because of the way in which the church itself dealt with complaints. But one estimate is based on the known incidence of offenders: a random survey across the USA and Canada showed 1.7% of females and 3.3 % of males had been abused.

If that is applied to a population of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, that comes out at around 30 million victims. If that figure is accurate, how can it not be described as a crime against humanity? And how can the international community continue to fête the leader of such a culpable organisation? How can international leaders continue to seek an audience?

For the very many honest, decent, moral and responsible Catholic followers of the church, this must be a devastating time. They see the institution they were brought up in mired in criminality and cover-up, their religious leaders exposed as conspirators in the subversion of justice. Is it any wonder the church is in crisis? Catholics have a legal responsibility to blow the whistle. It seems hard to see any other moral course of action.

This book is a bold statement that no-one is above the law, not individuals nor massively powerful institutions like the Catholic church.  Every Catholic should read this book and then use it to ask the questions and insist on the answers.

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About Bob Lloyd

  • Joey O

    What the heck?! Do you people just make crap up and publish it??? “But the very existence of the rules by which the church operates, called Canon Law, is supposed to be kept secret.
    “Canon Law is a set of rules for dealing with the misbehaviour of members of the church and it wasn’t codified formally until 1917 and then it was revised in 1983. The procedural rules were issued as a “secret of the Holy Office” in 1922 which meant that anyone disclosing the contents would be immediately excommunicated. That’s right, the rules were secret and the only reason that Catholics generally became aware of them at all was because they were leaked in 2003 to lawyers for US victims of child abuse.”
    Canon Law was first codified in the fourth century, you morons. It came from the Canonical Councils of the Church. I’m not even a page into this garbage, and I’m sick of reading it. If you want to read about what Canon Law actually is, look here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09056a.htm

  • http://www.molestedcatholics.com JohnBS1

    Bob. Make my day. Send me an email that says “Yep, we sure would like to look into working with you on writing and publishing your story John. ‘Doing 20 years in God’s city’ sounds like a great title”.

    I wish – JohnB

  • Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh

    Thankyou for sharing some of the interesting content in Mr Robertson’s new book on the accountability of the Pope in human rights abuse.

    As a family physician and practicing Catholic, I am outraged by what the Pope and many in the hierarchy have done in protecting priest sex abusers and in ignoring or intimidating the victims of abuse.

    To my understanding, infallibility was created in the 19th century at Vatican I, to give the Pope more power politically at that time.
    With all the poor decisions that Pope Benedict has made even up to the present day, I cannot see that he is infallible.

    Recently, I read that a fellow American who is a lawyer has said that he believes that Cardinal Ratzinger was deliberately made Pope to give him immunity from depositions and lawsuits in his complicity with members in the hierarchy who have not honestly admitted to their part in spreading priest sex abuse throughout the world.

    Even now, Pope Benedict has not admitted his personal failings in promoting worldwide sex abuse over many years. Not only that, over the past year, he has reversed the resignations of 2 Irish bishops who were complicit in the Irish abuse scandals.

    I think that the Pope will remain immune if we continue to allow the piece of land called the Vatican to remain a sovereign state.

    Mr. Robertson has presented a well thought out case of crimes against humanity, I believe.

    As a sincere Catholic, my desire is to see the victims of priest sex abuse protected. I would also like to see new leadership in the Roman Catholic Church so that all clergy involved in abuse or complicit in abuse be investigated by the police and removed from the priesthood, with some likely to do jail time.

    Sincerely, Rosemary Eileen McHugh, M.D., Wheaton, Illinois, USA

  • Rita Joseph

    I heard recently an extended interview on the BBC with Geoffrey Robinson regarding the theme of his new book and I was struck by the number of factual mistakes he had made. His understanding of the Pope Benedict’s role in all this appears to be based on deep prejudice rather than careful evaluation of the facts.
    A follow-up interview with the British Ambassador to the Holy See revealed that Robertson’s interpretation of the Irish Statement was absolutely false and that the secrecy allegations about canon law are wrong.
    The Ambassador made it clear that the advice from his government’s legal team who examined this was that the Holy See had always maintained the principle that in criminal matters the civil law takes precedence over canon law.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Joey:
    I can appreciate that such revelations about the complicity of the catholic church in covering up child abuse is a shock, but also that the existence of the rules of investigating it should remain secret is an affront to anyone’s trust in the church.

    Nevertheless, it is a fact that the Canon Law was an informal collection of dogma transmitted internally until 1917 when it was first codified. Of course, there was a collection of dogma before that stretching back centuries, a confused mixture of divine law, ecclesiastical law, and civil law. By 1917, there were relatively clear rules established.

    In 1922, repeated in 1962, the Crimen Sollicitationis was released which states:
    “Since, however, in dealing with these causes, more than usual are and concern must be shown that they be treated with the utmost confidentiality, and that, once decided and the decision executed, they are covered by permanent silence (Instruction of the Holy Office, 20 February 1867, No.14), all those persons in any way associated with the tribunal, or knowledgeable of these matters by reason of their office, are bound to observe the inviolability the strictest confidentiality, commonly known as the secret of the Holy Office, in all things and with all persons, under pain of incurring automatic excommunication, ipso facto and undeclared…”

    It goes on to explain that the victim is similarly constrained under pain of excommunication. This is not made up, although it is startlingly conspiratorial in its tone. It’s actually a Vatican document used to guide the conduct of the catholic hierarchy in cases of the sexual abuse of children.

    You are doubtless right to be outraged at the disclosure of this restraint on the victims of serious crime, but you’d be equally justified at being appalled at the fact that the church operated at all under these rules.

    It’s not moronic to expose this business.

    Rita:
    It’s Geoffrey Robertson QC and not Geoffrey Robinson – the latter is a sometime politician.

    Robertson goes into some detail in the book about the response of the Vatican to the Murphy Commission – it refused to reply to questions asked and wouldn’t even acknowledge the enquiries, insisting instead that diplomatic channels should be followed.

    The response of the Vatican to genuine and authorititative investigations of crimes against children is nothing short of breath-taking in its arrogant dismissal of due legal process. In addition, it is interesting to note that the British Ambassador to the Holy See is not an ambassador in any real sense, having no genuine diplomatic duties at all, but a catholic present only to bolster the notion that the vatican is a state. These functionaries are often called into the service of the Vatican.

    We might reasonably ask why, given the presence of a would be Ambassador, how it is that the Murphy Commission still hasn’t received answers to its questions from the Vatican?

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    [The Ambassador made it clear that the advice from his government’s legal team who examined this was that the Holy See had always maintained the principle that in criminal matters the civil law takes precedence over canon law.]

    Rita, I’m curious. If this is true, can you cite even one instance in which Bishops handed over a child-abusing priest to the police, or even informed the police of the suspicion, or even a single instance when they warned the child protection agencies, or any other body with responsibility for protecting children? Given the extent of the crimes committed within the institutions run by the church, if you are right about criminal and civil law taking precedence over Canon Law, there would be very many instances where priests were handed over to the police. According to Robertson, there are none. Not one!

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Joey:
    One other point I neglected to make about secrecy is that Cardinal Ratzinger, on 18th May 2001, issued an apostolic letter to bishops called “Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela” in which he brought the Crimen Sollicitationis to their attention. In this letter he addressed specifically crimes against minors under the age of 18 years of age. There was no suggestion that the police should be involved, but again it was stressed that the procedures be kept secret. He said it was a “pontifical secret”, which is defined in the Instruction of the Congregation of the Holy Office still current since 1866. Ratzinger reinforced the rule that secrecy, on pain of excommunication, is to be maintained at all costs.

    Appalling, but true. The man really does bear responsibility for institutionally hiding child abuse from the civil legal authorities.

  • http://www.molestedcatholics.com JohnBS1

    Dr Rosemary, I read your comment and went away – am back and read again and want to congratulate you on being one of the most rational Catholics I have encountered in the past 50 years since surviving repeat and violent sexual abuse at the hands of nuns and priests up until 8 years old. I am encouraged mostly because of the difficulties many survivors have in finding empathetic or neutral professionals. The most common encounter sets you up for medical failure with the worst condemning you as insane as a result of your speaking of your abuse. The catholic church would benefit from many more who are able to be both empathetic and rational.

    The following gives a present day view and understanding of the experience of survivors of clergy abuse and the continuing cover up in Australia – you will find little difference to the experience of other across the globe

    Even we were shocked by the global estimates of the numbers of those sexually abused by Catholic clergy.

  • Rita Joseph

    I have good reason for mistrusting Robertson’s vitriolic outbursts against Pope Benedict.

    By the logic of his attack on the Pope, Robertson, who heads the UN’s Internal Justice Council, should be just as accountable for the widespread and systematic sexual abuse of children by UN peacekeepers as he claims the Pope is for the actions of all paedophile priests.

    If you think the Church was slow to address child abuse, you should take a look at the horrific problem of child abuse by UN personnel in UN refugee camps.

    Widespread and systematic sexual abuse of children by UN peacekeepers has been reported but inadequately addressed since Namibia (1989), and Cambodia (1990) right through to terrible ongoing abuse today in the Congo UN mission.

    To date, thousands of child-abusers among peacekeepers and UN personnel appear to have enjoyed immunity from criminal prosecution. UN headquarters merely repatriated them, acting under the legal fiction that countries will prosecute or reprimand their own nationals.

    In November 2007, the UN “sent home” 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers stationed in Haiti because of sexual abuse allegations including the abuse of underage girls.
    In August 2007, in Côte d’Ivoire, 800 peacekeepers were suspended on allegations of sex with minors. In 2007, peacekeepers in southern Sudan were also reported for sexual abuse. A June 2008 Save the Children report implied that sexual abuse is widely underreported especially with regard to children who may be afraid to come forward and report complaints to UN officials.

    A November 2009 report notes that the UN has referred to national authorities more than 450 instances of misconduct – sexual and otherwise – since 2007. It received responses in only 29 of these cases.

    The fact is that the Church, unlike the UN, has already addressed sexual abuse within the Church and has instituted real reforms that have been in place for some years now—allegations of sexual crime are referred immediately for local police investigation and clergy who have been found guilty have served or are currently serving gaol sentences under domestic jurisdictions.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Rita:

    By the logic of his attack on the Pope, Robertson, who heads the UN’s Internal Justice Council, should be just as accountable for the widespread and systematic sexual abuse of children by UN peacekeepers as he claims the Pope is for the actions of all paedophile priests.

    That’s a very strange statement to make. There is clear evidence that the Pope has acted to cover up the sexual abuse of children within the catholic church. He has been instrumental in ensuring that criminals evade justice. Can you seriously suggest that Geoffrey Robertson QC has done the same? You are right though to say that Robertson has a professional duty to expose the situation and act to ensure that justice is done. One would have thought that the Pope would accept a moral duty to do the same but he has acted in the opposite direction.

    Geoffrey Robertson does not have command responsibility for the action of UN peace-keepers but the argument that whoever was in command is culpable stands.

    If you think the Church was slow to address child abuse, you should take a look at the horrific problem of child abuse by UN personnel in UN refugee camps.

    If there is evidence to support this allegation, and I think there is growing evidence, it should be investigated vigorously and the criminals brought to justice. But that doesn’t detract from the case against the Pope who should similarly face justice for what he has done. Robertson himself has been calling for this.

    The idea, called tu quoque says that I’m not guilty because you’ve done the same. It’s used to identify hipocrisy but can’t be used to claim immunity or innocence. If both have committed the crime, both are guilty. So saying that instead of identifying the criminal activity taking place under the leadership of the Pope, one should focus on something else, is a poor attempt to divert attention away from one guilty party on another. It doesn’t change the guilt.

    The fact is that the Church, unlike the UN, has already addressed sexual abuse within the Church and has instituted real reforms that have been in place for some years now – allegations of sexual crime are referred immediately for local police investigation and clergy who have been found guilty have served or are currently serving gaol sentences under domestic jurisdictions.

    Again you say this but the facts tell a different story. No-one seems to be able to find a case in which a bishop notified the police and handed over a paedophile priest. The church said that it had changed its ways, but in reality it carried on doing exactly the same thing, hiding paedophiles, transferring molesting priests to new pastures where they reoffended, and hiding the records which provide criminal evidence. Swearing the participants to secrecy ensured that the evidence would be locked away, and threatening the victims with excommunication is still the order of the day.

    It would be more convincing if the Crimen Sollicitationis was amended to required bishops to involve the police in enquiries of sexual abuse, to inform child protection agencies, to make available to police investigation all the available evidence, and so on. But nothing of the kind has happened. The Pope by contrast, has again and again insisted on secrecy and non-cooperation. If you are a catholic, you can ask your own bishop to confirm this.

    Find some examples of paedophile priests handed over to the police – and of course, they would need to be handed over prior to the civil authorities issuing their own arrest warrants. Let’s see some evidence of the catholic church hierarchy proactively addressing the problem by involving the police. I think lots of catholics would welcome such news but no-one seems to be able to find any.

  • Rita Joseph

    Bob, you may have missed my point or perhaps my point was too clumsily expressed.

    I’m not actually advocating the absurdity that Geoffrey Robertson should be held personally accountable for all the sexual abuse by UN personnel. I’m merely pointing out he could be held personally accountable if we were to apply the same faulty logic behind the similar absurdity of making the Pope accountable for all sexual abuse carried out by individuals in the Church, even before he became Pope.
    My argument is not tu quoque but rather that Robertson is requiring of the Pope an absurd degree of personal accountability (for all sexual crimes committed by clergy), a degree which, as head of the UN Internal Justice Council, he has never accepted for himself. In other words, Robertson would never propose for himself a similarly absurd degree of personal accountability which would require him to accept responsibility for all sexual crimes by UN personnel that remain unprosecuted. Nor would Robertson see himself as having covered up the sexual abuse of children by UN personnel or as having been instrumental in ensuring criminals evade justice. I can find no evidence that Robertson has instructed UN managerial staff to make a citizen’s arrest of each and every alleged UN offender, denounce them loudly and publicly and take them immediately and personally to the police while at the same time directly informing all child protection agencies.
    On the contrary, Robertson has written very sensibly and in a careful measured way of the need to combine a ‘zero tolerance’ policy with just process in examining and bringing to the authorities the available evidence against the accused.
    “The Commission endorses the Secretary General’s enforcement of the policy of ‘zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse’, but cautions that staff members must be afforded legal protection in such cases, by assigning private criminal defence attorneys to represent staff members who are subject to sexual exploitation charges. A number of serious disciplinary and criminal allegations have been made against staff members in the field, but several of them have been proved to have been motivated by malice or blackmail. These cases, particularly of sexual abuse, must be taken very seriously by the UN, but there is a grave concern that unless there is a proper defence, individuals will be unfairly demonized in the media and prejudiced in the run-up to the hearing. The UN must, at the time of charging a staff member with any misconduct of a criminal nature, provide a ‘public defender’ who can assist him or her and, if need be, hire private lawyers to represent them at the hearing.”

    (Before the Internal Justice Council was set up, the UN Office of Internal Oversight Service was in charge but was notoriously ineffective. Robertson was one of three commissioners who wrote the Report of the Commission of Experts on reforming Internal Justice at the UN. The above quote is Para 57 from this report.)

    With regard to the question of whether Robertson’s Internal Justice Council has responsibility for addressing sexual exploitation and abuse among UN employees—the answer is yes. It certainly has representation at MONUC and at UNMIS.

    Whether the Internal Justice Council has responsibility for the peacekeeping forces, the answer is technically no. Criminal liability for individual peacekeepers is pretty limited because they are granted effectively immunity from criminal liability in the mission area by the UN or by the host state.

    Again I’m not blaming Robertson for all this but I’m pointing out that real reform takes some time and credit should be given to both the Pope and to Robertson that they have initiated reforms and both appear to be trying sincerely and valiantly to eliminate sexual crime against children.
    I would reiterate that, at this point in time, the Pope’s Church reforms are well ahead of Robertson’s reform of the UN abuse debacle.

    Finally, it’s not sufficient, Bob, to just say that there is clear evidence that the Pope has acted to cover up the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church and that he has been instrumental in ensuring that criminals evade justice. The so-called proof is muddied by some very questionable re-interpretation of what the Pope has said and of what he has tried to do.

    For example, I would point out again, Robertson’s misrepresentation of the Pope’s recent Irish Statement would seem to indicate that he has left aside his professional objectivity and descended to prejudice.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Rita:

    You seem intent on distracting attention away from the actions of the catholic church and the responsibility of the Pope and other catholic officials, towards a comparison with Geoffrey Robertson himself. I can see the tactical intent of doing so but it really is clutching at straws.

    The Pope has acted to hide the abuse of children within the church. He has taken steps to ensure that the details remain hidden. He has acted to move, and sometimes rehabilitate offenders rather than have them subjected to the force of law and to face justice under criminal law. It is therefore either the organisation of the catholic church, whether embodied as a state or not, or the Pope personally who has to be held accountable.

    My argument is not tu quoque but rather that Robertson is requiring of the Pope an absurd degree of personal accountability (for all sexual crimes committed by clergy), a degree which, as head of the UN Internal Justice Council, he has never accepted for himself. In other words, Robertson would never propose for himself a similarly absurd degree of personal accountability which would require him to accept responsibility for all sexual crimes by UN personnel that remain unprosecuted.

    The degree of accountability which rests with the Pope depends on how you define the “personality” of the catholic church in international law. If, as they sometimes says, the church wants to be seen as a state, then the Vatican is accountable under international law. If they don’t want to be seen as a state, then the CEO of the NGO called the Catholic Church, namely the Pope, is accountable in law. They don’t seem to want to choose. In neither case is the degree of responsibility absurd. It is simply what is normally accepted as the standard of international law. An organisation is responsible for its actions, it has a legal “personality” which enabled it to be sued for compensation for wrongful acts, and also to be charged and sentenced for criminal acts.

    This is not in any way an absurd standard. The Pope is not infallible – he is a man exercising enormous power, just like the CEO of many an international corporation – and he is to be held to account just like any other man. His organisation has responsibilities under international law, whether he styles himself infallible or not.

    The reason Geoffrey Robertson is not held to be accountable for the UN troops involved in abuse, is because he does not have command authority. Those who do should be held accountable. That’s the clear difference.

    The Pope is the ultimate authority in the catholic church, and if the statehood claim is accepted, the head of a state. He has exactly that command authority which makes him culpable.

    The UN must, at the time of charging a staff member with any misconduct of a criminal nature, provide a ‘public defender’ who can assist him or her and, if need be, hire private lawyers to represent them at the hearing.

    Absolutely right, and Robertson argues that any priest so accused should be dealt with under due process of the criminal law which would include the admission of sworn statements, forensive evidence, cross-examination, proper qualified and informed counsel and so on. None of which is provided by the cover-up process in the catholic church. At present, those priests accused are judged by the organisation that wants to suppress any evidence of their acts, and to rehabilitate them spiritually.

    That’s precisely why the procedures in operation in the church are against the interests of justice. Every accused priest should be treated with the same legal process as anyone else accused of rape or sexual crime. The same rules or representation, anonymity, etc, should apply. Where is the justification for keeping the process internal to the church, and following a process which doesn’t follow even the basic principles of fairness and objectivity?

    I appreciate that you would really like to turn the attention onto Geoffrey Robertson QC, a respected international legal authority and accuse him of similar crimes to that of the Pope. Unfortunately, there isn’t a case against him despite what you allege. Instead, there is a very real and evidenced case against the Pope and you have so far offered nothing at all in his defence.

    For example, you did say that the church had reformed its processes and cooperated with the police. I repeat, can you find any example at all of a paedophile priest being handed over by a bishop to the police? Any evidence at all that the catholic church has warned child protection agencies of the presence of known paedophiles in catholic church institutions?

    If you are a catholic, I suggest that these are issues that you ought to be concerned about, ought to be asking questions about, and demanding answers from your bishop. If you read Robertson’s book, you will find hundreds of important questions to ask and depending on your bishop’s answers, you can make an informed assessment of how much the church is cooperating with the police in these matters. Be prepared for massive disappointment.