Let’s Arrest the Pope

April 24, 2010 at 12:51 pm (Max Dunbar, religion)

I’ve written before about the antiwar faction’s talismanic reverence for the concept of legality, and it’s this that trips up Liam MacUaid’s argument against arresting the Pope when he makes his publicly funded visit to the UK. (I found MacUaid’s piece via Andy Newman, who naturally and enthusiastically endorses it.) MacUaid asks:

And if we’re in the mood for dishing out arrest warrants would the pre-election period not be a good time to demand the arrest of all those present and former ministers with direct political responsibility for the ongoing wars and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan?

You could turn this question on its head: why do you want to arrest an elected leader for leading Britain into a war backed by parliament, but not arrest an unelected autocrat for covering up the torture and rape of children? You can mess around with the text of the 1985 letter as if it were a postmodern novel, you can go on about anti-papism and Orange Zionism until the stars burn out, but the Pope has a case to answer. Let him answer it, if he can.

Imagine if the Telegraph exposed a culture of systemic child rape in the Labour Party. It would make the expenses scandal look like a minor flap in media land. An investigation would already be well underway, the government would fall, people would be tearing up their party cards, those with evidence against them would be afraid to walk the streets – if they’d even been bailed. The same goes for any private business or public sector organisation. Because this involves a church, any talk of justice has to be a conspiracy against Catholics in general.

‘The left liberal intelligentsia is making a wrong call on this issue,’ says MacUaid. He talks about migrant Catholic workers at a parish in Bethnal Green:

Feel free to chastise them for their ideological backwardness but the hard fact is that they get more out of their membership of the Catholic Church than any other organisation they could choose to join. It would make for an interesting spectacle if a few of the liberal and left secularists demanding the arrest of Pope Benedict tried to rustle up support for their campaign among some of the most exploited workers in London.

The implication is clear: secularism is a bourgeois intellectual phenomenon that can only alienate the earthy and spiritual proletariat. I cannot match the far left’s communalist skills. They’ve bought into our culture’s condescending assumption that we shouldn’t challenge superstition because its illusions are all that the working classes have to live for. To quote former neocon Michael Lind: ‘Religion becomes what Plato called a noble lie. It is a myth which is told to the majority of the society by the philosophical elite in order to ensure social order’. And there was a time when far leftists would have tried to help exploited workers rather than just canvass them.

In any case, many Catholics are also incensed about the crimes. Read Andrew Sullivan on the Kiesle case. The scandal was broken by the Boston Globe, newspaper of the largest Catholic city in America, by an investigative team of mostly Catholic reporters. Journalist Michael Rezendes agrees that: ‘it was quite courageous of the editors – we could have alienated a lot of readers.’

Instead: ‘The Globe reporters were also quietly told of many dozens of cases over the previous decade or so, in which the church had settled claims against molesting priests privately, often including a clause that barred the victims or their families from ever talking about it.’ A typical case:

The Globe‘s first story also featured a heartbreaking interview with Maryetta Dussourd, whose three sons, and the four sons of her niece Diane, had been abused by Geoghan years earlier, in the 1970s, and with whom the church had settled privately. ‘She’d written this incredibly painful and poignant letter to the cardinal at the time,’ [religious affairs correspondent Michael] Paulson recalls. ‘You could feel all her passion for the church, her deep respect for the cardinal – and her shock and pain that despite her dozens of complaints, he was still continuing to work with children. That was what really got to people, I think.’

Paulson also identifies: ‘a kind of evolution of culture, a moment in history when people were willing to talk critically about religion. Often in the past that just hasn’t been possible.’

Despite Richard Dawkins’s best efforts I don’t sense the same evolution of culture in the UK. During this week’s Election 2010 debate, a questioner from the audience noted that: ‘The Pope has accepted an invitation to make an official state visit to Britain in September at a cost of millions of pounds to tax-payers’ and asked candidates if they would ‘disassociate your party from the Pope’s protection over many years of Catholic priests who were ultimately tried and convicted of child abuse’.

Instead of answering, all three candidates delivered identical pro-faith blather. ‘I think faith-based organisations, whether they are Christian or Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, do amazing things in our country,’ said David Cameron, ‘whether it is working in our prisons or providing good schools or actually helping some of the most vulnerable people in our country.’

The truth is that we have no reason to believe that vast numbers of people have to labour under worthless delusions and accept everything their leaders tell them. There’s every reason to believe that people are capable of looking at the facts and making brave decisions for themselves.


  1. FlyingRodent said,

    I think the point is that you need actual evidence and a reasonable prospect of conviction before you go arresting people, no? Otherwise, it’s a counterproductive exercise in moral grandstanding, I’d have thought.

    Maybe the Pope did engage in a cover up of child abuse. What’s the actual evidence that he did, though? Is there any reason to believe that he, Ratzinger, personally ordered a cover up? Is he just to be symbolically busted as the figurehead of an institutionally corrupt and depraved organisation? If so, is there legal precedent for this stuff?

    Is this to be a police arrest, or a citizen’s arrest? If it’s the former, is there a good prospect of conviction? In pure realpolitik terms, every Catholic nation on Earth is going to go totally mental, will probably divest from the UK and do their damnedest to make life as uncomfortable as possible for us, so it’d do us some good to be reasonably sure about the strength of our case.

    Plus, the cops have operating procedures that prevent them from just arresting people on the basis that a lot of people are pissed off and want something, anything, done about it. It’s that fine line between “Enforcing the law” and “Arbitrary detention” that prevents them nicking all kinds of undesirables that makes us a democracy, eh no?

    If we’re talking citizen’s arrest, there are two problems – a) they’re only permitted in very specific circumstances, usually if there is no doubt that a crime is in the process of being committed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen's_arrest#United_Kingdom) and b) anyone who tries it is probably going to get their heads blown off by snipers before they can get within three feet of the Pontiff.

    Shorter – Okay, I get the idea. How’s this going to work in practice?

    Note – Variations on “The Pope is a bastard”; “Catholicism is rubbish” or “Those lefties are awful for saying (x)” are not practical proposals for action.

  2. resistor said,

    ‘why do you want to arrest an elected leader for leading Britain into a war backed by parliament’

    Because it was mass murder you idiot.

    This was a war you supported Max. This shows that you are a bigot as well as a warmonger.

  3. maxdunbar said,

    I can see this thread is going to be full of reasoned argument and interesting points.

    Flying Rodent – there are lawyers that say that Ratzinger can be arrested. You will be able to find opposing legal views if you google around. Still, here’s the legal argument as I see it.

    International law counts the sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity. The charge against the Pope would be that of aiding and abetting these crimes. He would not necessarily be able to claim immunity as a head of state.

    ‘The ICC Statute definition of a crime against humanity includes rape and sexual slavery and other similarly inhumane acts causing harm to mental or physical health, committed against civilians on a widespread or systematic scale, if condoned by a government or a de facto authority. It has been held to cover the recruitment of children as soldiers or sex slaves. If acts of sexual abuse by priests are not isolated or sporadic, but part of a wide practice both known to and unpunished by their de facto authority then they fall within the temporal jurisdiction of the ICC – if that practice continued after July 2002, when the court was established.’


    Hitchens argues that the Pope has both an individual responsibility and an institutional responsibility. The individual responsibility comes from covering up specific incidents: e.g. sending active paedophile priests for ‘therapy’ rather than calling the police; ignoring complaints and allegations; moving offenders around to other parishes where they resume work with children.

    The institutional responsibility comes from Ratzinger’s role in the cover up. He has consistently put the needs of the church ahead of victims and families. As head of the Vatican office that investigates these claims he wrote to every bishop in the chruch ‘reminding them of the strict penalties facing those who referred allegations of sexual abuse against priests to outside authorities…. It urged them to investigate such allegations ‘in the most secretive way… restrained by a perpetual silence… and everyone… is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office… under the penalty of excommunication’.


    • Lobby Ludd said,

      OK, Max, so certain lawyers argue that Ratshisname could be arrested for individual and institutional responsibility for zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz (Unfortunately this comment has had to be edited as it is too boring to be displayed in full. MD)

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        Actually, Professor Bonkers admitted on his website that this was all about influencing public opinion and trying to pressure the government into cancelling the visit – in other words, a publicity stunt. That Max takes the arrest issue seriously is highly entertaining.

      • Lobby Ludd said,

        Max, you may not like what I say, you may find it ‘boring’ but removing a few lines of comment shows you to be a foolish juvenile.

        Get fucked

    • Lobby Ludd said,

      “Let’s Arrest the Pope”

      Yeah, it’ll be great, let’s do it right now, come on everybody, it’ll be fun. Oh fuck, it’s getting late, let’s nick a few traffic cones on our way home.

  4. splinteredsunrise said,

    The Pope is unelected? Really, Max? You’ve never heard of a conclave?

  5. Wot Evah said,

    If anybody’s interested in the legal issues that arise in relation to the pope and the arrest warrant the discussion over at the European Journal of International Law blog is worth a read:


    The author of the post argues that the issue of an arrest warrant would not be legal under international law (unless the UN Security Council refer the case to the ICC). A number of commentators argue contrary positions.

    The discussion is quite hard to get your head round: a good natured and well reasoned debate taking place on a blog! I had to do a double take…

  6. scott neil said,

    “Imagine if the Telegraph exposed a culture of systemic child rape in the Labour Party. It would make the expenses scandal look like a minor flap in media land. An investigation would already be well underway, the government would fall, people would be tearing up their party cards, those with evidence against them would be afraid to walk the streets – if they’d even been bailed. The same goes for any private business or public sector organisation. Because this involves a church, any talk of justice has to be a conspiracy against Catholics in general.”

    well said Max, that is the only point that needs to be said here. got to laugh at Splintered Sunrise’s fact checking (you’re guilty as charged wrt calling him unelected, i’m sure).

    talk about ignoring an elephant in the room, Sunrise!

  7. splinteredsunrise said,

    Of course, this is of no significance at all. Nor is this. Nothing to see here.

  8. scott neil said,

    indeed. of course the numbers of its adherents, its influence and strength of the Catholic Church (in a post going on about the Catholic Church, natch) make them an interesting case to discuss without resorting to whataboutery.

    (for the record, i should have removed the penultimate sentence from the words of Max i quoted, just to be clear. i mean, can you IMAGINE if his Labour example held true? that’s more what i was getting at. that’s what’s important. an organisation w the heft and gift for deniability that the Church – or Labour, heh – possess, doing this. they amount to far more of a hill of beans than the Scouts do, say, though of course all these crimes are of equal repugnance.)

    i am sure this is also irrelevant; also, too, this.

  9. maxdunbar said,

    A poor set of responses from the usual apologists and clowns.

    Splintered, of course Dawkins made it clear that it’s unlikely that the Pope will be arrested. And I haven’t given the impression that it’s going to happen. But the fact that some legal opinions say that it is possible should be a wake up call for you.

    And who knows? Perhaps there will be a surprise for Ratzinger later this year.

    The Pope is chosen by 120 cardinals. I don’t call that an election.

  10. maxdunbar said,

    And what are the significance of those links you’re throwing around, Sunrise?

    Because there are also Jewish paedophiles, we shouldn’t be talking about Catholic paedophiles?

    Is that what you’re trying to say?

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      No, I’m saying that your concern for victims of sexual abuse seems to hinge on whether those victims are Conveniently Catholic. After all, this blog hasn’t been running a zillion post saying “Let’s arrest the Chief Rabbi” or “The Jews are now beyond the pale”.

      It might help, too, if you actually knew something about the subject. Those of us who are close to the abuse story and have been for many years don’t tend to be impressed by ignorami venting on the subject.

      • Suzy Siamang said,

        Fair enough — for a falangist reactionary like you, there probably is no qualitative or quantitative difference between isolated instances of child-rape and torture and the endemic child-rape, torture and subsequent cover ups exposed in the Church of Rome. It would be interesting to know exactly which Hassidic sect you think the Chief Rabbi is head of. Also interesting (not really) to know what a ‘zillion’ is.

  11. skidmarx said,

    What Mr.Sunrise is doing is known as “whataboutery”. And yes, that seems exactly what he’s trying to say.

  12. resistor said,

    Since Dunbar’s idol Christopher Hitchens boasted how he helped persuade Bush to invade Iraq, anyone up to making a citizen’s arrest on the fat drunken bastard for incitement to muder?

  13. maxdunbar said,


    If you have been reading this blog for a while you will know that we subject all faiths to strong criticism.

    And we never said ‘The Catholics are beyond the pale’ so your comparison makes no sense. You’re like the far left commenters who accuse anyone who criticises Islamism of being racist against Muslims.

    I don’t have to be personally affected by this story to find it shocking and to write about it. I just have to read widely, consider the facts and draw my own conclusions.

    • Lobby Ludd said,

      And your conclusions are ‘arrest the Pope’, something that will not happen, will not be attempted, by you or anyone else, even as a publicity stunt done in the knowledge it will fail.

      It’s called posturing, Max. A point you deleted from my very brief post, on the grounds that it was ‘boring’.

      (Do you think mucking about with other people’s posts, eg selective deletions, is OK, Max?)

  14. maxdunbar said,

    Well, this is my thread, and you’re a boring commenter with nothing to say.

    I’m not saying the Pope will definitely be arrested. I’m saying there is a case to answer. Do you deny that there is? If so, why?

  15. Lobby Ludd said,

    You wouldn’t want to know my opinion, it’s boring and empty.

  16. entdinglichung said,

  17. skidmarx said,

    entdinglichung – the last I heard from Vincent Nichols, he was saying that “our suffering is not as great” as that of the victims, as if the Catholic Church had suffered from anything but a loss of its immunity to criticism.

  18. maxdunbar said,

    Lobby Ludd = Shiraz Benji.

  19. Jim Denham said,

    Nooman defends the Pope – republishing (approvingly) an article by a leading member of Opus Dei!


    How much further can this supposed “Marxist” (Nooman, that is) degenerate?

    The comments below the piece (some comparing criticism of the Catholic Church with anti-semitism!) are also mainly of the loony variety; but some “Socialist Unity” readers are still capable of being shocked and express their dismay:

    “Seriously, the best use of SU is to let an Opus Dei mouthpiece put forth the lie that Ratzinger has ‘done most to rid the church of this scourge’. Can we have Norman Tebbit next week on how Thatcher loved the miners.”

    • martin ohr said,


      yes it truly is tragic, but the decline of the newman from a saddo SWP hack to an ex-swp, god-bothering, nationalist, moaist, new labour loving, benny-hill lookalike is all too predictable . The tragic part is that SU still attracts so many visitors.

      Mind you millions of people buy the SUN everyday too in the believe that it is a newspaper so I guess socialists visiting Newman is not that hard to believe.

      Just as it is easy to stop being outraged a the SUN it is easy to stop being outraged by Newman and the SU wankers, just don’t bother visiting the site. Socialists aren’t welcome there anyway so why bother.

      • Lobby Ludd said,

        Martin, I don’t suppose you might entertain the idea that your attitude might also be problematic? And Max, fuck off, for once, before you start.

      • martin ohr said,

        Lobby, I might certainly entertain the idea that my attitude might be problematic. Do you think my attitude is problematic? If so in what way.

        Let me make my position clear on god(s) and religion:

        There clearly is no god. The same science that can put satellites into orbit, deliver premature babies and nurse them to health, and create computers/internet can easily demonstrate how we evolved and can take a good enough guess at how the earth was formed to satisfy any rational person.

        Therefore anyone who claims to either represent a god, or to speak to god, or to hear god is either a liar, or is mentally ill. Anyone who claims to do gods work on earth is either a liar or mentally ill, anyone who follows such bishops, rabbis, cardinals and immans is at best muddle-headed and at work a deluded idiot. Anyone who can look at the bible and not see it as a work of fiction probably should not be given the space to regurgitate the falsehoods contained within it.

        That’s not to say that we should criminalise those who believe in god (not yet anyway) there’s a role for religion in society- albeit one that is withering away nicely.

        However I’m all in favour of the pope being imprissoned for being a massive liar and fraudulently obtaining funds from gulliable catholics by claiming to speak the word of a non-existent god. That’s before we even investigate his part in the child abuse (were the pope a head-teacher for example in the same position he would have already lost his job and likely be on remand on conspiracy charges) or the fact that he Nazi saluted jews to their deaths.

        The mistake the sort of socialists who visit the SU site make is in confusing the simple deluded fools who believe that god and religion can make society better with the charlatans and fakers who organise religion itself. That in itself would be worthy of debate. Defending peadophile nazis is not.

  20. maxdunbar said,

    How is his attitude problematic?

  21. maxdunbar said,

    From Cardinal Newman’s site – speaking out against the Vatican is the new Islamophobia:

    ’35.“‘Catholic bashing’ is a close cousin of Islamophobia?”

    Yeah, I think it is. They are both mass media fads avidly bought into by middle class liberals, who need “barbaric, primitive” scapegoats to divert their own attention from the failure of the secular capitalist/consumerist society which gives them their privielged lifestyle. It’s no coincidence that this ties them closer to their own ruling class, which seeks to justify imperialist conquest and exploitation by pointing out that Those Guys Over There have backwards ideas towards women and/or queer people.

    It’s also no coincidence, I think, that Islam and Catholicism have social teachings which are antagonistic to neoliberalism.’

    This would be funny were the issues not so grave.

  22. resistor said,

    In The God Delusion Dawkins states:

    “Priestly abuse of children is nowadays taken to mean sexual abuse, and I feel obliged, at the outset, to get the whole matter of sexual abuse into proportion and out of the way. Others have noted that we live in a time of hysteria about paedophilia, a mob psychology that calls to mind the Salem witch-hunts of 1692… All three of the boarding schools I attended employed teachers whose affections for small boys overstepped the bounds of propriety. That was indeed reprehensible. Nevertheless, if, fifty years on, they had been hounded by vigilantes or lawyers as no better than child murderers, I should have felt obliged to come to their defence, even as the victim of one of them (an embarrassing but otherwise harmless experience).

    The Roman Catholic Church has borne a heavy share of such retrospective opprobrium. For all sorts of reasons I dislike the Roman Catholic Church. But I dislike unfairness even more, and I can’t help wondering whether this one institution has been unfairly demonized over the issue, especially in Ireland and America… We should be aware of the remarkable power of the mind to concoct false memories, especially when abetted by unscrupulous therapists and mercenary lawyers. The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown great courage, in the face of spiteful vested interests, in demonstrating how easy it is for people to concoct memories that are entirely false but which seem, to the victim, every bit as real as true memories. This is so counter-intuitive that juries are easily swayed by sincere but false testimony from witnesses.” pp 315-316 (2006)

  23. Max Dunbar said,

    Interesting point. The God Delusion was published in 2006. This seems to go against the idea that Dawkins has a dogmatic opposition to the Catholic Church above all other religious institutions.

    I don’t think that anyone could have guessed in 2006 the extent of the crimes that would surface in recent months.

  24. johng said,

    I would highly recommend Diarmaid MacCulloch’s book “Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700”. In my memory the only book sold in the W H Smith’s history section which proved genuinely educational. An absolutely fascinating read and summation of the best of recent scholarship on the European Reformation.

  25. Max Dunbar said,

    Another one from the SU thread:

    ‘Aside from the anti-Catholic frenzy this has given rise to, it’s interesting to see self-styled leftists raving about stringing up paedos, kiddie fiddlers and nonces, like a demented gathering of Portsmouth taxi drivers.’

    Nicely encapslates a bourgeois contempt for working class families worried about predatory sex offenders in their communities.

  26. Rosie said,

    I can’t be bothered getting into the who sent what memo to who when, so can’t judge how good the case against the pope is. What astounds me is the automatic jumping to the defence of an institution which has a history of repression and censorship. (The books that have been on the Papal Index are a library of some of the best works written.) The Church and individual priests and bishops have had their moments of speaking out and acting against repressive governments, sometimes heroically, but I would have thought that the instincts of a progressive would be to regard the head of a body like the RCC (secretive, authoritarian) with great suspicion and not be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    There is a movement to arrest Henry Kissinger for war crimes. I wonder if Newman would (a) point out that might offend ordinary Americans; (b) publish a defence of Kissinger written by Norman Podhoretz.

  27. Max Dunbar said,

    Well Hitchens has done a lot of work on the case.

    I think that answers your question!

  28. charliethechulo said,

    Dave’s Place is well worth a gander just at the moment:

  29. Lobby Ludd said,

    By the way, Max, do you still think it is OK to delete partsof a short comment on the grounds that is your post, and the comment was ‘boring’?

    Don’t be an arse, you know that is unacceptable.

  30. Will said,

  31. maxdunbar said,


    I found that comment quite boring.

    • Lobby Ludd said,


      I found that comment quite boring.”

      Oh shit, I have failed. I’m going for the ‘very boring’,

      I’ll be back, possibly, don’t wait up.

    • Lobby Ludd said,

      Boring or not, Max, selective deletions of parts of a post are surely unacceptable, aren’t they? It misrepresent what is being said, where complete deletion does not do the same.

      Come on, you know it’s wrong, don’t you?

      • Celeste said,

        Get some perspective you self-regarding small town Tory twerp. It’s not bloody Hansard and you’re ‘reputation’ is not at stake — people don’t point at you when you go to Tesco and whisper ‘there’s that Lobby Ludd’ (or if they do you need help). It’s a silly bloody weblog — get a fucking life.

  32. maxdunbar said,

    Celeste – I could not have put it half as well.

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