Voicing a line of argument increasingly heard in the media over the last weeks, award-winning British journalist Johann Hari called for the arrest of the Pope on the BBC’s Dateline London show this week.
“The paper trail goes to Ratzinger,” said Hari, referring to the fact that the Pope as Cardinal Ratzinger personally assumed responsibility to review Catholic sex-abuse cases. “Imagine if this happened at any other organization, if it were the BBC,” said Hari. “The language of mistakes and repentance is wrong. This is a matter of criminal law. We’re talking about an international criminal conspiracy to cover up the rape of children that enabled that rape to go on for a very long period. It’s not enough to say sorry. If you’re sorry, hand yourself over to the police and let them investigate it.”
Hari compared the Pope to Augusto Pinochet, the brutal Chilean dictator who was arrested in Britain in 1998 by authorities acting on a “universal extradition” request filed by a judge in Spain. Hari said the “universal extradition” applied in the case of the Pope. “We’re talking about tens of thousands of children,” he said, citing the assertion made this week by international human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, who said sovereign immunity does not cover crimes against humanity. “This is a crime against humanity.”
Hari pointed to the Pope’s directive issued when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger to priests and bishops ordering them not to report cases of abuse to secular authorities. It’s a damning order but its meaning has been debated. Ratzinger issued such a call regarding not general abuse but abuse that took place in the confessional, his aim being to safeguard the sworn commitment to silence regarding confession as a sacrament of the Church. But that argument will hold little water with men like Hari in search of justice for the abused.
Hari also points out that sovereign immunity applies for heads of state. The Vatican was made a state in 1929 by Fascist Italian ruler Benito Mussolini. “I don’t think we should particularly respect Mussolini’s political decisions.”
While the story of the Papal scandal — “What the Pope knew and when he knew it” as the BBC host puts it– continues and will continue, Church leaders are weighing in whether they want to or not with their silence and their complaints of conspiracy.
Outspoken Denver Archbishop Chaput has been mum on the issue. The Denver archdiocese website hosts no writing from the typically prolific Archbishop. Instead it points to a piece penned by Rev. James Conley, Auxiliary Bishop of Denver, which takes up a familiar defensive posture in its opening paragraph:
Over these past few weeks a flurry of stories have appeared in the media regarding clergy sexual abuse and its mishandling by Catholic bishops and even the pope himself. Much of this information is dated. The fact that these stories were triggered in part by an attorney with a long and lucrative financial history of litigating the Catholic community and were pressed with such enthusiasm by editors during Holy Week—and in particular on Good Friday—could hardly have been a coincidence.