Just read that sentence one more time. It could be my favorite sentence ever, after "Jon Stewart loved your audition tape," and, "here are the bacon donuts!".
Two dudes I have hardcore academic crushes on are teaming up to bring novel international LEGAL claims against the most powerful institution in the world? Awesome! Never mind the fact that neither is a lawyer, or that they don't have jurisdiction, or that the Pope almost certainly has sovereign immunity - it's time to start a realistic conversation about how to hold Catholic clergymen legally (and secularly) accountable for the Church's massive child abuse conspiracy.
The most recent allegations began when the Associated Press released a 1985 letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) refusing to defrock Father Stephen Kiesle, a CONVICTED child abuser. Kiesle had been found guilty by a California court in 1978 for tying up children and molesting them. Kiesel requested to be defrocked, but the Pope refused for "the good of the universal church." (Maybe Kiesle had something else in mind when he asked to be "defrocked.") The Father began volunteering as a youth minister, and subsequently plead guilty to child molestation and was sentenced to six years in prison. Today, Kiesle is a registered sex offender.
This is the just most recent in a long line of accusations that the Catholic Church spent decades (maybe centuries?) covering up sex abuse scandals and silencing victims. But now, Dawkins and Hitchens are leading a new kind of charge: suing the Pope. They've hired two English attorneys - Solicitor Mark Stephens and Barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC - and are angrily pounding their keyboards and inundating the internet with incendiary, effusive threats. But what are the chances of their legal jargon actually accomplishing anything other than stoking their own anti-Catholic sentiment (and stroking their own egos)?
In the meantime, news coverage of the Dawkins/Hitchins crusade indicates they're also launching a private civil suit against Pope Benedict. If that's true, they've got to find a person who has an actual interest in the case. Neither Dawkins or Hitchens has a personal cause of action against the Pope, so they need to find a molestation victim (preferably someone abused by a Priest, like Father Kiesle, whom Church authorities expressly permitted to be around children despite abuse allegations) to actually bring the suit. If they want to sue the Pope in England, this victim must have been abused in or be a resident of England to establish jurisdiction. Then they have to get past the Vatican's claim that as head of state, the Pope has sovereign immunity from prosecution. (The counter-argument is that the Vatican is not a United Nations member, only an observer nation, and therefore cannot claim international sovereign immunity. No predictions yet on how successful that argument will be, but this issue alone could have far-reaching implications. Consider other observer nations like, oh, I don't know, PALESTINE?).
These challenges mean that Dawkins and Hitchens, despite their rhetorical flourishes, are the LEAST likely people to mount a successful challenge against one of the world's oldest, richest, and most powerful institutions. Wouldn't organizing an international class action brought by actual victims make a bigger, better impact? Not to be flippant with a subject as tender and terrible as child abuse, but asbestos and cigarette manufacturers quickly settled cases when they saw the number of potential claimants. Sometimes the threat of legal action is more powerful than legal action.
And, maybe that's what Dawkins and Hitchens are trying to do. Maybe they understand their own limits, but think that someone needs to be raising these issues, starting this conversation, and making these threats. And if that's the case, we couldn't ask for two men with a more vivid mastery of prose. When asked if his goal was to get the Pope to resign, Dawkin's gave the following chilling response:
No, Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears.