Geoffrey Robertson, a renowned human rights lawyer and United Nations jurist, wants to see Pope Benedict put on trial for allegedly protecting predator priests.
In a Guardian UK piece making its rounds this week in Catholic circles, Robertson demanded the pope be "put in the dock" so that the church might "feel the full weight of international law" over its thousands of pedophilia scandals.
The pope's conduct, he said, "amounted to the criminal offence of aiding and abetting sex with minors," making Benedict a justifiable target for either the International Criminal Court or a British court acting under the legal principal of universal jurisdiction.
Other international figures who've recently been pursued by various courts under universal jurisdiction include several former Bush administration attorneys and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for the torture of terror war prisoners, along with Israeli officials who helped launch the 2008 Gaza offensive.
"Universal jurisdiction Ã¢â‚¬â€ a concept in international law Ã¢â‚¬â€ allows judges to issue warrants for nearly any visitor accused of grievous crimes, no matter where they live," the Associated Press reported. "British judges have been more open to the concept than those in other countries."
"In legal actions against Catholic archdioceses in the US it has been alleged that the same conduct reflected Vatican policy as approved by Cardinal Ratzinger (as the pope then was) as late as November 2002," Robertson wrote. "Sexual assaults were regarded as sins that were subject to church tribunals, and guilty priests were sent on a 'pious pilgrimage' while oaths of confidentiality were extracted from their victims."
He continued: "The UN at its inception refused membership to the Vatican but has allowed it a unique 'observer status', permitting it to become signatory to treaties such as the Law of the Sea and (ironically) the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to speak and vote at UN conferences where it promotes its controversial dogmas on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. This has involved the UN in blatant discrimination on grounds of religion: other faiths are unofficially represented, if at all, by NGOs. But it has encouraged the Vatican to claim statehood Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and immunity from liability."
"Robertson insisted that the ICC could be used as long as the PopeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sovereign immunity was waived and as long as jurists can show that the sex abuse scandal was carried out on a 'widespread or systematic scale,' the way that child soldiers were used in the wars in Sierra Leone and the way that sex slaves are traded internationally," The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute added.
The Catholic League of Australia was quick to launch a spirited defense of the pope, suggesting that Benedict's accusers have no evidence.
"Robertson is a Human Rights lawyer who should know better than to suggest that charges of crime should be levelled without any evidence," they opined. "Unfortunately for Mr. Robertson his desire to create controversy and his own gossip does not constitute as a source of law. Mr. Robertson also bizarrely suggests that the Vatican is not a country. He conveniently 'forgets' that 179 countries recognise the Vatican as a sovereign state. Mr. RobertsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s effort to create controversy and create publicity for himself has blinded his judgement."
For its part, The New York Times reported Saturday that as a Cardinal, Ratzinger seemed to be resisting efforts to defrock a priest who molested children, waiting six long years before any action was taken.
"The matter was one of several recently reported instances in which documents have indicated that Benedict or his subordinates failed to act strongly against abuser priests Ã¢â‚¬â€ a failing that Vatican officials, cardinals and many bishops have heatedly rejected," the paper added. "The reports have surfaced amid a wave of disclosures about past sexual abuses by Roman Catholic priests around Europe."