DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Should the pope be arrested?



JH Ramsay

I’m going to stick with the facts here, and let the argument form itself. I’m not going to try to persuade you, I’m just going to hope that there’s some logic operating in your brain somewhere. Here’s the evidence. Decide for yourself the appropriate verdict.

Pope Benedict XVI is a criminal by international standards. As a Cardinal at the head of the Congregation for The Doctrine of The Faith, he knew of sexual abuse cases under his jurisdiction, and actively covered them up.

Priests directly beneath the current Pope’s authority were accused of abusing children. In some cases, priests who could have been stopped and reprimanded continued to take advantage of multiple children. Benedict hid these facts from the law, refusing to disclose not only the details but also the very existence of many of these abuse cases.

A predictable argument against the arrest of the Pope would focus on the symbolism, and not the humanity, of a Pope. It is undoubtedly true that Pope Benedict represents something more than an individual person. He reflects, as an elected official, a powerful organization that is unshakable in its integrity, confident in its structure, and comfortable in the international eye historically.

Without a doubt, Catholicism is a world super power, if not by physical or monetary might, then by sheer influence. And that influence goes too far. While Catholics may believe Benedict was elected by God, the majority of the world sees him as a human being in a political position. And elected politicians are not immune to condemnation or accusation by the law.

It is an international agreement that legally, every person must accept responsibility for their actions and decisions. One could even argue that that principle is at the core of global politics. Whether one is a President of the United States, a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, or a Pope of the Vatican, they are never exempt from answering for their mistakes.

The Pope has committed criminal acts and must therefore be put on trial.


Sohpie Patterson

Sexual abuse perpetrated by priests is only one of the many grave problems with the modern Catholic Church. However, the issue at hand is the accountability of Pope Benedict XVI for these offences: charging him with “crimes against humanity” alongside racists and mass murderers is absurd.

The Pope should not be arrested for a trio of obvious reasons. Firstly, he has committed no crime. The Vatican deals with abuse cases through bishops under its own Canon Law code, allowing it some freedom from local courts and police. This practice has lead to allegations of cover-ups but is nonetheless legal and approved. The Pope came into very little contact with sex abuse incidents prior to 2001, when he approved a document that made aspects of sex abuse incidents subject to papal confidentiality. Since then he has changed Canon Law to hasten the expulsion of accused priests, and has apologised publicly for faults in the Church.

Furthermore, as Head of the Vatican City State, the Pope holds diplomatic immunity from charges of even international crimes, and exercised this right before on a visit to the US in 2005. Both his immunity and the status of the Vatican is recognised by the UK Foreign Office, the State Immunity Act and by European treaties since 1929 and before.

Lastly – and perhaps most importantly – the proposal that the Pope be arrested is a misguided gesture that will only hinder real efforts to enhance transparency and modernity in Rome. Instead of focusing on the Church’s figurehead, attention should be turned to the vast base of the iceberg: the use of Canon Law should co-operate with civil and local authorities to prevent the Vatican becoming a law unto itself. Like any other powerful NGO, the Church has to play its part in world affairs responsibly: it’s highly necessary to question the Pope’s role. But a manhunt is a divisive, crude and frivolous way to address the complex and serious repercussions that the Church’s actions have internationally.


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