Richard Dawkins is Not Arresting the Pope April 11, 2010

Richard Dawkins is Not Arresting the Pope

If you’re like me, when you see headlines like this, your ears perk up:

Richard Dawkins: I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI

What does that article say?

Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

They have commissioned the barrister Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens, a solicitor, to present a justification for legal action.

Dawkins and Hitchens both get accused of being arrogant, but do they actually think they can just get “their people” to walk up to the Pope and arrest him? Surely they’re not thinking that. That would take some chutzpah, no?

Regardless of how much you want it to happen, they’re not doing that.

Dawkins himself has admitted this is all untrue. (What else would you expect from a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, the man who brought you FOX News Channel?)

Needless to say, I did NOT say “I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI” or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself.

What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope’s proposed visit to Britain. Beyond that, I declined to comment to Marc Horme, other than to refer him to my ‘Ratzinger is the Perfect Pope’ article here:

Here is what really happened. Christopher Hitchens first proposed the legal challenge idea to me on March 14th. I responded enthusiastically, and suggested the name of a high profile human rights lawyer whom I know. I had lost her address, however, and set about tracking her down. Meanwhile, Christopher made the brilliant suggestion of Geoffrey Robertson. He approached him, and Mr Robertson’s subsequent ‘Put the Pope in the Dock’ article in The Guardian shows him to be ideal:

The case is obviously in good hands, with him and Mark Stephens. I am especially intrigued by the proposed challenge to the legality of the Vatican as a sovereign state whose head can claim diplomatic immunity.

Even if the Pope doesn’t end up in the dock, and even if the Vatican doesn’t cancel the visit, I am optimistic that we shall raise public consciousness to the point where the British government will find it very awkward indeed to go ahead with the Pope’s visit, let alone pay for it.


The Pope isn’t going to go away even if he were arrested. If anything, that’d make a lot of people sympathize with him, and that’s not at all what we want.

Everyone should just continue calling for his resignation. This is a man unfit for his position. Even if he didn’t molest any children himself, he knew what was going on and didn’t do enough to stop it. And he’s supposed to be a shining example of moral clarity? Please. He’s a fallible joke.

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  • Kris

    I don’t agree that we should just continue calling for his resignation. For one thing, it just won’t happen. More importantly, though, he really does desserve to be prosecuted. I can’t imagine how a man can shelter and even aid child abusers and somehow manage to escape any kind of prosecution. For him to be further welcomed with open arms by a government—to have them even pay for his visit—is appalling and really shouldn’t go unchallenged.

  • Charles Minus

    So where are the British libel laws when we need them. A lawsuit against the paper that printed that article ought to go a long way towards paying the legal fees for our suit.

  • Heidi

    I still don’t get how this guy got to be Pope in the first place. Was he the best they could come up with??

  • NewEnglandBob

    Motto of Faux News (and all of Murdoch’s media): No lie is too big to tell. No truth is too big to bury.

  • Roxane

    If he were the CEO of a corporation that had systematically engaged in committing and covering up this kind of abuse, he would have been busted long ago–especially since documentation exists that links him directly to the scandal. It’s kind of ironic that he gets a pass for being the head of a church. Wouldn’t you think that, as the head of a church that has claimed the right to dictate sexual morality to everyone else–from contraception to what positions are acceptable–would be held DOUBLY culpable for this kind of crime?

  • Damn, I wish Dawkins would arrest the Pope. The guy is a sick bastard.

  • benjdm

    The Pope isn’t going to go away even if he were arrested.

    Huh? The only way he goes away is if he gets arrested and then convicted.

  • Revyloution

    Charles Minus, that is an excellent point. Im no lawyer, much less an English citizen, but it seems to me that there would be a case for libel.

    The problem is that Murdoch has such deep pockets. Trying to sue him would be like spitting into the wind.

    I think it silly for people like us to call for the Popes resignation. Obviously none of us are Catholic, so we rightly have no say in their organization. I hope he stays. He could be a great force for getting people to leave the church.

  • Erp

    The Pope is unlikely to resign for several reasons. Among others former heads of state ca be arrested and tried and the Vatican State is a very small state to be cooped up in for the rest of one’s life. Note we should make a distinction between whether to laicize or not a priest which is a purely internal church matter and turning in suspected child molesters to the relevant authorities. Failure to do the latter (or failure to keep convicted child molesters who have served their terms away from children) are what should concern all. Whether the felon remains a priest is really only a matter for Catholics.

    He was probably elected because he was effectively the second in command under the previous Pope and very good at internal Vatican politics. He was also seen as a short term Pope (he is over 80) so other potential candidates may have supported him knowing they would have another chance soon.

  • 3D

    Am I the only one wondering why he is “unfit for his position”?

    He’s a perfect fit for his position. He’s a lying, immoral, Nazi sack of shit. Who would be a better leader for the Catholic church than that?

  • Drat! I believed it too.

    Also it is only libel if it is malicious and untrue. While being untrue the article does nothing to defame Richard Dawkins. He has suffered no loss as a result of the article and so has no case to press. The paper could issue a retraction (a column inch on page 17) and that would be the end of it.

  • Honestly, I’m still hoping that Pope Palpatine is brought up on charges as an accessory after the fact.

  • SmilingAtheist

    What really needs to happen is to have several legal suits in many countries. That would make it interesting. The pope wouldn’t be able to go anywhere.
    On a side note, if you want to be depressed just read the comments section at the original article or check out any comment section in the many articles posted online about this. It is truely sad!

  • Language stickler alert!

    Dawkings “admitted” nothing. He stated that the story was untrue.

    In order for him to have “admitted” that it was untrue, he would have had to make the initial claim. He did no such thing. The story that he was personally going to attempt to arrest the Pope was not true, and there is therefore nothing for Dawkins to “admit.”
    He simply responded to the falsehood by stating the truth.

  • BH

    The Pope isn’t going to go away even if he were arrested. If anything, that’d make a lot of people sympathize with him, and that’s not at all what we want.

    I don’t care whether people sympathize with him. Not my business. There seems to be enough evidence to try Ratzinger on this matter, maybe even to convict him, so he should be tried like any one else would be. Like magical powers, public perception shouldn’t enter into the legal equation at all.

  • Swampfox

    I think anyone who critizes the RCC for a cover-up is either ignorant or a hypocrite and hate monger. It is not an institutional problem, but a human problem.

    Attacking a institution shows how ignorant they are about the topic. Why weren’t they yelling for the arrests of the leaders of the UN when it came to light about the child sex abuse within that organization? Why aren’t they yelling for the arrest of the leading political and business leaders of the tourist industry in the Caribbean when it came to light how they are involved in child sex abuse.

    The commercialization of child sex abuse in the tourism sector in some Caribbean territories is becoming an escalating problem, according to a recent study commissioned by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

    And the study by UNICEF suggests that regional politicians, senior professionals and businessmen are part of the practice of selling and buying sex in business transactions that are underpinned by the exploitation and abuse of young children.

    The report, titled `Perceptions of, Attitudes to and Opinions on Child Sexual Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean’ cites the tourist industry in the region as an area where the proclivity for deviant sexual practices by visitors to the region has been ‘packaged’ by service providers in various forms of emerging child abuse including the use of boys to provide sexual services to cruise ship passengers. Why aren’t the attackers of the RCC yelling for the their heads?

    The study also found evidence of a lucrative market for child sex tourism alluding to ‘several specific examples of an organized pedophile network,” in which it found that “boys were a specific target.” Why aren’t the atheists yelling for the their heads?

    The report presents what it says is “an alarming picture of a social problem that is escalating, has increasingly severe consequences for Caribbean societies, has multiple layers and is perpetuated not only by adults who carry out harmful sexual practices with children but also by non-abusing adults through complicity, silence, denial and failure to take appropriate action.”

    I guarantee a majority of those attacking the RCC know someone in their family who has been molested and won’t speak up or are child molesters themselves.

    Hey ignorant people wake up!! The fact is that most victims of child sex abuse stay silent, whether they are abused at church by a clergy member or, more commonly, at home by a relative or family friend. That’s by Susan Nielsen of The Oregonian, not me.

    At least one in five girls and one in 10 boys experiences unwanted sexual touching or other sex abuse, based on federal data and research cited by the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most of the bad actors in these cases are not priests or pastors. They are stepfathers, family friends, fathers and neighbors.

    What is it about truth that people don’t understand?

    Also, until recently, most state laws enforced a tight window of time during which victims could successfully seek justice. The statute of limitations would close while victims were still in their teens or early 20s, typically unprepared and ill-equipped to take on the authority figure who abused them. Why aren’t the RCC attackers banging on the door of State capitals demanding these laws be changed?

    Ignorant people don’t realize that this is a social problem that brings to light flaws in the human and social character and this is where the problem must be attacked. But then again the attackers of the RCC don’t care about child sex abuse, they care about attacking the RCC.

  • muggle

    Swampfox, I think you’re comparing apples and oranges:

    From that article:

    “The UN office mandated with investigating the crimes, when they are reported, is the Office of Internal Oversight Services, a sparsely staffed unit, vastly under-resourced and many times blocked from real investigations for political reasons, such as with the ill-fated Oil-for-Food program. Even if findings are made, OIOS cannot punish soldiers, they can only report. Yet when the UN does place requests to nations to punish or even investigate soldiers, few respond to the requests.

    Many times, the only option is to seek voluntary help from the countries in question, hoping that cooperation will be forthcoming. For example, according to the UN News Service, the UN sent 192 such requests in 2008 and received six responses on action taken, while 146 requests were made and nine responses received in 2007. In the UN system, even if disciplinary action is sought, without the cooperation of Member states, little or no action can ever be contemplated. According to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), between January 1, 2004 and November 21, 2006, the United Nations investigated allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving 319 peacekeeping personnel in all missions, resulting in the dismissal of 18 civilians and the repatriation of 17 police and 144 military personnel. Member states, six years after the UN rightly called for zero tolerance of abuse by peacekeepers, still are not willing to subject their soldiers to investigation or, sadly, do it themselves.”

    The basic difference here, in case you missed it, is the UN is attempting to do something; the Catholic Church and its head specifically have attempted to cover it up rather than do anything.

    Big freaking difference. For your analogy to be correct, it would be the same if the Pope, or the office he was in at the time that was charged with investigating allegations, turned pedophile preists over to local authorities and the local authorities refused to press charges. That is not what happened.

    I like SmilingAtheist’s suggestion but I would also like to see the Pope prosecuted criminally. Since that’s unlikely to happen, I hope people worldwide bring civil lawsuits against him.

    And, yes, I’d like the UN to see what else they can do to turn up the heat on member nations refusing to prosecute pervs. I’m just not sure what else they can do except maybe help victims file lawsuits if that’s even possible in such countries.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Swampfox, as Muggle pointed out, some of your comparisons are not apt. However, you are correct that sexual abuse is disturbingly common, and most often carried out by family members. I’m baffled as to how you could possibly think that this makes the RCC’s policies of covering up sexual abuse, and placing known abusers in places where they could continue to rape children somehow acceptable. If it was discovered that the Pope had murdered someone, would you just shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, murders happens all the time. Most murders aren’t carried out by the pope. Why are all you RCC-bashers focusing on this particular murder?” Pointing out that sexual abuse is common, and in most cases, not carried out by priests, is exactly the same “logic” (and I use that word loosely).

    I would suggest that if you actually want to defend the actions of the RCC, it would make more sense to explain why the RCC policies in question are not morally repulsive, rather than deflect attention by pointing out other morally repulsive behavior. However, I understand that since the RCC’s actions are indefensible, deflecting attention is really the only option that you have.

    Ignorant people don’t realize that this is a social problem that brings to light flaws in the human and social character and this is where the problem must be attacked.

    What the fuck? This is just a random social problem, that has nothing to do with the RCC at all? As many people have explained, the issue is not the abuse per se. There are child molestors in any organization. The issue is that most organizations don’t feel free to cover up the child molestation from civil authorities, and then place known child molestors in positions where they can continue to rape children. What makes me absolutely furious is that it’s people like you that enable the RCC to continue to act the way that it does. It knows that it can do things like this because its members won’t hold them accountable, and will make excuses for them no matter how groteqsquely repulsive and morally indefensible their behavior.

  • Greg

    Swampfox – I kind of agree with Muggle.

    I only say kind of because Muggle says Apples and Oranges. I’d be more tempted to say Apples and Rocks.

    The two are so different it is ridiculous.

    Here’s some more differences between the two.

    The RCC claim to not only have absolute knowledge of morality, but to be absolutely moral. The Pope claims to have access to an omnipotent and omniscient being who cannot be questioned. The RCC is an organisation which in no way is accountable to people. The Vatican calls itself a seperate state, and interferes (negatively) rough-shod in other states without punishment. The RCC…

    Oh, come on, surely I don’t have to go on. Don’t get me wrong, I could – I’ve yet to have to start thinking about them.

    And what makes it even more ridiculous is that EVEN IF your post was right, that still doesn’t excuse the Pope and the RCC in any way, or mean that they shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. You are just using the Catholic Church’s own tactics of trying to frighten people into silence because they themselves have not led a 100% perfect life.

    Which, I suppose, when you think about it, is the consequences of ‘Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.’

    I have to admit, I always found that statement a little iffy, even if in the story it saved a woman’s life.

  • TheCatholic


    (5) The Church claims to have an absolute knowledge of morality – if you want to take it in that simplistic sense – but it has NEVER claimed to be absolutely moral. I have no idea where atheists get such a stupid idea from. In fact, priests, bishops and Popes have from time immemorial been emphasizing that the Church is made up of sinners – even Benedict himself said that several times recently.

    Secondly, the Vatican does not “interfere rough-shod” in other countries any more than liberal lobbies do. In fact, history shows that it is the Vatican that has always been handled rough-shod by the State since the Roman Empire.

    (8-9) Perhaps, you should get off your high horse and apply that moral to yourself. Before throwing stones at the Pope (or asking for the Pope to be arrested), consider all the other abuse cases in society first. When you have dealt with all of them, then do you have any right to direct inciendiary comments and actions (including arrest) against the Pope.

  • TheCatholic

    Before throwing stones at the Pope (or asking for the Pope to be arrested), consider all the other abuse cases in society first. When you have dealt with all of them, then do you have any right to direct incendiary comments and actions (including arrest) against the Pope.

    No, hang on. The Pope is responsible for hiding incidents of child rape. We don’t simply decide to go after everyone else first because he’s the Pope. There is sufficient evidence and public interest to pursue the matter through the courts. The fact that other people are guilty of the same or worse is NOT a reason to let him get away with it.

  • If you are aware of a crime being committed and you do not report it, you become an accessory after the fact. If you protect the criminal and assist in concealing the crime, you are guilty of aiding and abetting.

    Either Ratzinger should be arrested and tried or let’s have official recognition that yes, some people are above the laws that apply to the rest of us.

    Sympathy for him aside, either there is equal justice under e law or the legal fiction of a fair and just society has been a sham.

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