22 Dec 2010

New book by UN judge says Vatican should be treated as a rogue state until it abandons canon law and stops protecting abusers

The Sydney Morning Herald - Australia September 9, 2010

Call to treat Vatican as a rogue state

Lawyer Geoffrey Robertson says the church must abandon canon law, writes Paola Totaro

THE Vatican should be treated as a kind of ''rogue state'' by the rest of the world until it stops using statehood - and the ancient rules of the canon law - to protect paedophile priests.

So says Geoffrey Robertson, QC, the veteran human rights lawyer and United Nations judge, arguing that the Catholic Church is the only religion permitted under international law to claim the privileges of statehood and its leaders immunity from civil or criminal action.

In his new book, The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse published as a Penguin special in Britain - and in Australia at the weekend - Mr Robertson urges the world to press the Catholic Church into abandoning canon law, the ancient set of ecclesiastical rules that also define disciplinary provisions for offences ranging from sex crimes to ordaining women.

However, these punishments, sometimes meted out under mediaeval written procedures run by fellow priests, allow ''neither cross-examination and medical examination, nor DNA testing'' and ''no punishment worthy of that name'', he says.

''The worst that can happen, other than an order to do penance, is 'laicisation'; that is, defrocking, which permits the paedophile to leave the church and get a job in a state school or care home, without anyone knowing of this conviction. Canon law has no sex offenders registry.

''While there can be no objection to an organisation disciplining members for a breach of arcane rules, there is every objection when those breaches amount to serious crimes and the organisation claims the right to deal with them internally without reporting them to the police.

''And that is precisely what the Vatican has been doing: instead of reporting to law enforcement authorities those priests it knows to be guilty of raping children, and to be likely to rape more children in the future, it has been dealing with them under canon law, which demands utmost pontifical secrecy, moving them to other parishes and letting them off with admonitions and unenforceable penances … usually to say prayers for their victims.''

Mr Robertson told the Herald that canon law is defective in failing to put the interests of children first, in not requiring compensation for victims and in condemning whistleblowers.

One of the cases he discusses is that of the Dapto priest Maurie Crocker, who had to go to his local newspaper to inform on paedophile priests in Wollongong but was ostracised and later committed suicide. ''Some of my family came from Dapto and the story moved me - however hard it is for clergy to inform on their brothers, they must learn that the interests of children are paramount.''

Mr Robertson said: ''The incidence of clerical sexual abuse of children is much higher than has previously been understood - tens of thousands - probably up to a hundred thousand children have been molested by priests since 1981 … This scandal has come about because [the church] under Cardinal Ratzinger [the present Pope], insisted that all child abuse allegations be dealt with under the 'pontifical secrecy' provisions of canon law.''

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Herald.ie - Ireland September 9, 2010

Witness for the prosecution

ACCOUNTABILITY: In his new book, lawyer and author Geoffrey Robertson argues that Pope Benedict XVI should be facing a legal case against him over the Church’s shameful cover-up of clerical sex abuse here and in many other countries

By Geoffrey Robertson

Every person is entitled to claim the right to religion, and to manifest it in community with others by "teaching, practice, worship and observance".

The corollary of this right is that churches must be free to propound the tenets of their respective faiths, but always subject to laws necessary in a democracy to protect public interests and the rights and freedoms of others.

Church leaders and personnel are not only subject, like everyone else, to the laws of the nation where they live, but to international criminal law.

How, then, can one religious leader be above all laws, whether national or international and whether civil or criminal?

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI -- who next week makes the first Papal visit to the UK since that of John Paul II in 1982 -- is unaccountable as well as infallible, as asserted by his followers and diplomats.

This issue has arisen in the context of the evidence of clerical sex abuse which has emerged in court cases in the US; in the Murphy Report into clerical child abuse in the Dublin Diocese; and in similar patterns lately emerging in Europe and Australia and Canada.

The facts, as Church leaders admit with apologies that are now profuse, are shameful and scandalous. But they have consequences far beyond the reputational damage to the Church.

The evidence establishes that, at the direction of the Vatican, wrongdoers were dealt with in a manner that protected them from exposure, silenced their victims, aided and abetted some to move on to commit further offences, and withheld evidence of their serious crimes from law enforcement authorities.

In effect, the Church has in many countries been running a parallel system of criminal justice, in which the guilty went unpunished and the lips of their victims were sealed.

This alternative system of "justice" was overseen for almost a quarter of a century by Cardinal Ratzinger (who in 2005 became Pope Benedict XVI); that so much wrongdoing happened on his watch raises serious questions about his competence as an administrator and a leader.

Now he is the commander of the Vatican and he is head of the Holy See, a sovereign state.

Most national criminal laws make it an offence to conceal evidence of serious crime, and civil law has vicarious liability for those whose negligence has caused or contributed to human suffering. On what basis can it be said that the Pope and the Holy See can avoid investigation for these different forms of legal accountability?

The sexual abuse of children is an outrage -- bad enough in ordinary cases of "stranger- danger" paedophilia, and worse when teachers or Scout masters or babysitters or parents abuse the trust placed in them and molest their charges.

But worst of all are priest offenders, who groom their victims in the confessional or on retreats or otherwise through the spiritual power vested in them.

This is why the Vatican's responses to the child-abuse scandal, has been woeful.

It has never -- even today -- faced up to the central fact that the church, for many years under the guidance of Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), had become a law unto itself. The Church's response is that hierarchical sex abuse occurs in all religious institutions and in secular schools, and it is wrong to "stereotype" the Roman Catholic priesthood.

But the evidence does reliably show a markedly higher level of abuse in Catholic institutions, and in any event the defence misses the point -- namely that this Church, through its pretensions to be a state, with its own non-punitive canon law, has actually covered up the abuse and harboured the abusers.

By the age of seven, very often, Catholic children are taking communion -- an awesome experience for them in which the priest performs before their eyes the transubstantiation miracle of changing the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Then, at the same age, the impressionable and nervous child is made to confess his sins -- the priest, god-like, dispenses forgiveness. "Catholics are indoctrinated from their childhood that priests take the place of Jesus Christ and are to be obeyed at all costs, and never questioned or criticised," says Father Tom Doyle, an outspoken critic of the Vatican's stance on abuse.

A church that puts its children from this early age under the spiritual control of its priests, has the most stringent of duties to guard against the exploitation of that obedience.

That includes the duty of handing over those suspected of child sex abuse to the secular authorities for trial and, if convicted, for punishment.

It is this duty that Cardinal Ratzinger, aka Benedict XVI, has for the past 30 years adamantly refused to accept.

Everyone knows that subjecting a child to sexual molestation is a crime deserving of punishment, irrespective of whether it is also a sin requiring penitence.

But the Catholic Church has treated such behaviour by its priests as a sin deserving only of penance, and has done its best to hide malefactors from the arrest, public trial and sentences of imprisonment that befall most other child molesters.


What moral blindness has made a church renowned for its benevolence so reluctant to root out and punish all the child abusers in its midst, and even willing -- as the evidence clearly shows -- to move them on to greener pastures?

The plain facts now emerging show that sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests has been at a level considerably above that in any other organisation, and that it has been covered up by many bishops with the support and at the direction of the Vatican.

The cover-up has included an almost visceral refusal to call in the police, the swearing of complainants and witnesses to secrecy, and proceedings under a clandestine canon law biased towards the priests.

Transgressors likely to reoffend have been moved to parishes where their record is not known: some 60pc of US priests were "reassigned" after the first report that they were child abusers. The "traffic" of paedophile priests to and from the US is well authenticated.

No explanation has been forthcoming for why this was tolerated at the highest levels of the Church, especially during the Papacy of John Paul II and the prefecture of Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF.

Then, of course, there is the question of forgiveness or, more specifically, who should do the forgiving, and when?

The sexual abuse of children is a serious crime, and whether or not it is a sin (as most serious crimes are) does not matter, on Earth in any event.

But the Catholic Church insists on forgiving its criminal priests when they have confessed and claimed to be repentant and said prayers or done a few charitable works, and that forgiveness has come with a determination to protect them from arrest and trial.

The problem was highlighted by the Pope's pastoral letter to his Irish faithful in March. While condemning the sin he could not bring himself to damn the sinners -- thrice he told the perpetrators that forgiveness was theirs for the asking.

There are few recorded instances of attempts to hold the Vatican, or its pontiff, liable for the Church practices of hiding paedophile priests, or covering up their crimes.

In some countries there have been civil actions for damages against the direct employers of the offending priests, ie the bishops and their dioceses. These have mainly been settled by insurers, usually on "hush money" terms.

The payments have been considerable and in some cases massive (especially in the US with its class-action suits).

These settlements are unsatisfactory for many victims, because they do not provide the closure that comes from catching the "big fish", ie holding the Vatican accountable for directing the perpetrators' escape route through the parallel justice system of canon law.

It is in this context that the Pope and the Holy See have been proposed as defendants in civil actions. But the US State Department has intervened, issuing a "suggestion of immunity" (not a "suggestion" at all, but a direction that American judges are bound to accept).

Since the Holy See is a state, says this certificate, the Pope has "head of state immunity": he can never be sued, nor prosecuted, and the Holy See has state immunity, which (with certain exceptions) removes its liability for civil wrongs.

The Catholic Church must be answerable for the way it has sheltered paedophile priests: its pretensions to statehood should not give it immunity in international law. The clerical sex abuse scandal has most visibly raised these issues.

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The Guardian - U.K. September 11, 2010

The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuses by Geoffrey Robertson

Book Review by Terry Eagleton

The first child sex scandal in the Catholic church took place in AD153, long before there was a "gay culture" or Jewish journalists for bishops to blame it on. By the 1960s, the problem had become so dire that a cleric responsible for the care of "erring" priests wrote to the Vatican suggesting that it acquire a Caribbean island to put them on.

What has made a bad situation worse, as the eminent QC Geoffrey Robertson argues in this coolly devastating inquiry, is canon law – the church's own arcane, highly secretive legal system, which deals with alleged child abusers in a dismayingly mild manner rather than handing them over to the police. Its "penalties" for raping children include such draconian measures as warnings, rebukes, extra prayers, counselling and a few months on retreat. It is even possible to interpret canon law as claiming that a valid defence for paedophile offences is paedophilia. Since child abusers are supposedly incapable of controlling their sexual urges, this can be used in their defence. It is rather like pleading not guilty to stealing from Tesco's on the grounds that one is a shoplifter. One blindingly simple reason for the huge amount of child abuse in the Catholic church (on one estimate, up to 9% of clerics are implicated) is that the perpetrators know they will almost certainly get away with it.

For almost a quarter of a century, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the man who is now Pope, was in supreme command of this parallel system of justice – a system deliberately hidden from the public, police and parliaments and run, so Robertson maintains, in defiance of international law. Those who imagine that the Vatican has recently agreed to cooperate with the police, he points out, have simply fallen for one of its cynical public relations exercises. In the so-called "New Norms" published by Pope Benedict this year, there is still no instruction to report suspected offenders to the civil authorities, and attempting to ordain a woman is deemed to be as serious an offence as sodomising a child. There have, however, been some changes: victims of child abuse are now allowed to report the matter up to the age of 38 rather than 28. If you happen to be 39, that's just tough luck. As Robertson wryly comments, Jesus declares that child molesters deserve to be drowned in the depths of the sea, not hidden in the depths of the Holy See.

How can Ratzinger get away with it? One mightily important reason, examined in detail in this book, is because he is supposedly a head of state. The Vatican describes itself on its website as an "absolute monarchy", which means that the Pope is immune from being sued or prosecuted. It also means that as the only body in the world with "non-member state" status at the UN, the Catholic church has a global platform for pursuing its goals of diminishing women, demonising homosexuals, obstructing the use of condoms to prevent Aids and refusing to allow abortion even to save the life of the mother. For these purposes, it is sometimes to be found in unholy alliance with states such as Libya and Iran. Neither is it slow to use veiled threats of excommunication to bend Catholic politicians throughout the world to its will. If Pope Benedict were to air some of his troglodytic views with full public force, Robertson suggests, the Home Office would have been forced to refuse him entry into Britain.

In fact, he argues, the Vatican's claim to statehood is bogus. It dates from a treaty established between Mussolini and the Holy See, which Robertson believes has no basis in international law. The Vatican has no permanent population, which is a legal requirement of being a state. In fact, since almost all its inhabitants are celibate, it cannot propagate citizens at all other than by unfortunate accident. It is not really a territory, has no jurisdiction over crimes committed in its precincts and depends for all its essential services on the neighbouring nation of Italy. Nor does it field a team in the World Cup, surely the most convincing sign of its phoniness.

"Petty gossip" is how the Pope has described irrefutable evidence of serious crimes. His time as the Vatican official in charge of overseeing priestly discipline was the period when, in Robertson's furiously eloquent words, "tens of thousands of children were bewitched, buggered and bewildered by Catholic priests whilst [Ratzinger's] attention was fixated on 'evil' homosexuals, sinful divorcees, deviate liberation theologians, planners of families and wearers of condoms".

Can he be brought to book for this? As a widespread and systematic practice, clerical sexual abuse could be considered a crime against humanity, such crimes not being confined to times of war; and though Ratzinger may claim immunity as a head of state, he is also a German citizen. The book comes to no firm conclusion here, but the possibility of convicting the supreme pontiff of aiding and abetting the international crime of systemic child abuse seems not out of the question. The Vatican, in any case, is unlikely to escape such a fate by arguing, as it has done already, that the relations between the Pope and his bishops are of such unfathomable theological complexity that no mere human court could ever hope to grasp them.

This is a book that combines moral passion with steely forensic precision, enlivened with the odd flash of dry wit. With admirable judiciousness, it even finds it in its heart to praise the charitable work of the Catholic church, as well as reminding us that paedophiles (whom Robertson has defended in court) can be kindly men. It is one of the most formidable demolition jobs one could imagine on a man who has done more to discredit the cause of religion than Rasputin and Pat Robertson put together.

Terry Eagleton's latest book is On Evil (Yale).

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