The Null Device
Popes who support rape should all be defrocked
As revelations of endemic child rape supported by the Catholic Church for decades (if not centuries) emerge, including claims that the current Pope was instrumental in protecting rapists
, the Church has responded,
apologising profusely, handing suspects over to authorities and liquidating its assets to pay compensation
, rubbishing the accusations as "petty gossip", blaming "gay culture" for child abuse and comparing criticism of the Church to anti-Semitism
. Some are calling for the Pope to be dismissed, though, unfortunately, there is no way to sack a Pope
, what with him being infallible and all that. Now, Geoffrey Robertson, QC, has called for Pope Benedict XVI to be put on trial by the International Criminal Court
; Robertson argues that the sovereign immunity of the Vatican is too flimsy to stand up, and even if not, heads of state who preside over atrocities can be stripped of it to face trial:
It hinges on the assumption that the Vatican, or its metaphysical emanation, the Holy See, is a state. But the papal states were extinguished by invasion in 1870 and the Vatican was created by fascist Italy in 1929 when Mussolini endowed this tiny enclave – 0.17 of a square mile containing 900 Catholic bureaucrats – with "sovereignty in the international field ... in conformity with its traditions and the exigencies of its mission in the world". The notion that statehood can be created by another country's unilateral declaration is risible: Iran could make Qom a state overnight, or the UK could launch Canterbury on to the international stage.
This claim could be challenged successfully in the UK and in the European Court of Human Rights. But in any event, head of state immunity provides no protection for the pope in the international criminal court (see its current indictment of President Bashir). The ICC Statute definition of a crime against humanity includes rape and sexual slavery and other similarly inhumane acts causing harm to mental or physical health, committed against civilians on a widespread or systematic scale, if condoned by a government or a de facto authority. It has been held to cover the recruitment of children as soldiers or sex slaves. If acts of sexual abuse by priests are not isolated or sporadic, but part of a wide practice both known to and unpunished by their de facto authority then they fall within the temporal jurisdiction of the ICC – if that practice continued after July 2002, when the court was established.
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