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Prominent British atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have hired lawyers to investigate the possibility of prosecuting the Pope for crimes against humanity, their attorney confirmed today.
The pair are arguing that Pope Benedict XVI should be arrested when he visits Britain in September and put on trial for his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. Last week a letter emerged from 1985 in which the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger urged that a paedophilic priest in America not be defrocked for the “good of the universal church”.
The Vatican has already suggested the pope is immune from prosecution because he is a head of state. But Dawkins and Hitchens believe that because he is not the head of a state with full United Nations membership, he does not hold immunity and could be arrested when he steps on to British soil.
This is the advice they have been given by their lawyers – solicitor Mark Stephens and human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC.
“I’m convinced we can get over the threshold of immunity,” said Stephens. “The Vatican is not recognised as a state in international law. People assume that it has existed for time immemorial but it was a construct of Mussolini, and when the Vatican first applied to become a member of the UN, the US said no. So as a sop they were given the status of permanent observers rather than full members.”
Stephens said there are three lines of approach to put the pope in the dock. “One is that we apply for a warrant to the international criminal court. Alternatively, criminal proceedings could be brought here, either a public prosecution brought by the Crown Prosecution Service or a private prosecution. That would require at least one victim to come forward who is either from this jurisdiction or was abused here. The third option is for individuals to lodge civil claims,” said Stephens.
Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great) are long time critics of organized religion especially the Roman Catholic church. In Sunday’s Washington Post, Dawkins called Pope Benedict “A leering old villain in a frock, who spent decades conspiring behind closed doors for the position he now holds; a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part; a man whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless AIDS victims in Africa; a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence . . .”
Should be interesting when the attorneys appeal for an arrest warrant for a visiting head of state, even though the Pope is more hat than head, and Vatican City is smaller than the National Mall in Washington DC.
The Pope will most likely be able to go to Britain without fear of being thrown in the Tower of London, but if this thing gains ground, come September when the Papal visit is due, don’t be surprised if Benedict comes down with a bad case of something, those cells in the Tower are cold, so very cold.