23 Dec 2010

Thousands of children raped by priests is a human rights atrocity, Pope should resign to give survivors more than mere words

ABC News - Australia September 16, 2010

Robertson wants Pope to resign over child abuse

Australian-born human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC has launched a blistering attack on Pope Benedict on the eve of the pontiff's controversial state visit to Britain.

Mr Robertson says the Pope should resign for failing to act on child abuse in the Catholic Church.

He also argues that the Catholic Church's canon law does not give justice to victims and should be ditched.

And the internationally recognised lawyer repeated his recent characterisation of the Vatican as a "rogue state", saying countries like Australia are wasting millions of dollars in maintaining embassies there.

Mr Robertson told ABC News Breakfast the Pope must "do the honourable thing " and resign over the church's ongoing global child sex abuse scandal.

"For 30 years, as Cardinal Ratzinger, from 1981 on, he was in charge of what to do about paedophile priests and he declined on the whole to even defrock them," Mr Robertson said.

"It's been many centuries since a Pope has resigned but it would be a very dignified and honourable action.

"He is 83 after all and it would give victims worldwide - and estimates put them up to 100,000 victims - a chance to feel that something is being done, not mere words.

"We've got to see that tens of thousands of children who have been raped by priests ... as a human rights atrocity. It's gone on throughout the world. Wherever the church is, there have been abusers."

Mr Robertson says the Vatican is not really a state and countries, including Australia, are wasting millions of dollars on embassies there.

"The real problem of course is that Vatican pretends to be a state - it's not a state, it's a palace and gardens," he said.

"There are no 'Vaticanians', there are no people, and no-one gets born there, except by accident because all the clerics are sworn to celibacy. It actually doesn't satisfy the legal tests for statehood. It shouldn't have immunity, shouldn't have separate embassies.

"The vast amount of money that Australia has wasted on its Vatican embassy - which I walked into the other day despite all the expensive security proceedings - [is] really unnecessary."

Mr Robertson also argues that the Vatican should stop protecting paedophile priests by abandoning canon law - the laws and regulations made and adopted by the church.

"Canon law is not law at all," he said.

"It has no punishment. The problem with the church is that it's been treating paedophile priests as sinners and not as serious criminals.

"Canon law is a medieval procedure. There's no cross-examination, there's no forensic testing and it's run by priests who judge priests so not many get convicted.

"It's a biased court, and ... there's no punishment. The Pope even said last week that he thought penance was quite sufficient for child molesters.

"[Penance] means being asked to go away and pray for your victims.

"Of course, victims don't want their abusers to say prayers for them. They want justice and they want to make sure the abuser doesn't offend again.

"Canon law is hopeless. The church has got to give it up if it's going to deal with this massive crisis."

Pope 'has led the way'

Mr Robertson's comments come as Pope Benedict is set to embark on a historic state visit to Britain but he is facing anger there from victims of paedophile priests.

Catholic commentator Austen Ivereigh is the coordinator of Catholic Voices, which has been arguing the case for the church ahead of the Pope's UK visit.

He says the Pope should not have to resign.

"This Pope has done more than really anybody else, certainly in the Vatican, to get on top of this problem of clerical sex abuse cover-ups," he told ABC Radio National.

"He's reformed the system of laicisation [defrocking], he's issued letters of apology to the Irish, he's put in place very structural reforms, he's met abuse victims - the first Pope to do so. He has led the way on this."

Mr Robertson refers to Mr Ivereigh as a "papal propagandist".

But Mr Ivereigh is quick to dismiss Mr Robertson's arguments about the Vatican's immunity and the use of canon law as "complete nonsense".

"Geoffrey Robertson's whole case rests on the fact that the Vatican somehow uses it's very limited state immunity - which refers just to the area the Vatican occupies in Rome - that this somehow extends to the church worldwide," he said.

"And that it uses this as a way of seeking refuge from the law in each country - it's just nonsense. The church is present in each country and is subject to the civil law of each country."

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