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

Terry Eagleton welcomes Geoffrey Robertson QC’s “coolly devastating” inquiry into the church sex abuse scandal.

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.

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

Read the full article in the Guardian.

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