Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have launched in their latest crusade by seeking to indict the Pope. It’s not the humourless arrogance that I mind; rather it’s the muddling up of issues and the ignorance of the law.
Contrary to what Dawkins and Hitchens (and Monbiot) argue, putting the Pope on the dock will not bring any justice. The accusation of crime against humanity is not based on the Pope’s direct action or complicity in crimes. The responsibility for child abuse rests with the perpetrators and with those organisations, in this case, the dioceses that have aided the crime or failed to stop it. If there are cases where the Pope is directly responsible, they would be a matter for the national courts, not for an international criminal court. A head of state, such as the Pope, has no legal responsibility for his citizens, unless s/he is directly implicated. We would not hold the Queen or the Prime Minister accountable for the criminal behaviour of British citizens in the UK or abroad.
The issue for the Pope is not a legal one, but a moral one. The Vatican has lost its moral authority. They are feeling the heat and act as the victims of the media in a secularised society. As a result, not a day goes by without some ludicrous statement is made to be then is retracted or clarified. First, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pope’s preacher, likened the media’s treatment of the Catholic Church to anti-Semitism; then Babini, Bishop of Grosseto, called the media’s criticism of the Vatican a ‘Zionist attack’ and blamed the Jews for the holocaust, and now Cardinal Bertone blames child abuse on homosexuality.
It is saddening and depressing to see members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church displaying such ignorance, prejudice and bad taste. Pope Benedict XVI’s reign has so far been embarrassing and perhaps the first one where the Pope had to say ‘sorry’ left, right and centre. The Vatican is being reprimanded by heads of state (France and Germany), not just the media. This is, however, not the result of our 'secularised' society, but of a moralised society where human rights are finally recognised and cherished and where accountability is demanded from all authorities.
The Pope is sorry, but he’s not showing moral leadership. The changes in child abuse policy are welcomed but they are too little too late as ever. A brave Pope would understand the times, the call for accountability and initiate a Concilium for the renewal of Catholicism, for a rethink of Church doctrine, and for an increased participation of Catholics to Vatican politics and policies. That would take courage and humility, the same courage and humility Pope John XXIII had. I’m not holding my breath for Vatican III.