“Petty gossip” or crimes against humanity? You be the judge.
As Pope Benedict begins his celebration of the holiest days on the Christian calendar he is dogged by public opinion and accusation that may finally bring decades of horror and abuse to the full light of day. Or not. The world community—both sacred and secular—wants answers and justice. Yet the pontiff continues to dismiss the history of abuse by Catholic priests, which is being slowly and painfully revealed, as “petty gossip.” His avuncular scowl is reminiscent of Dick Cheney’s teeth-grinding claims of WMD and Richard Nixon’s famous assertion, “I am not a crook!”—persuasive to true-believers, but deeply disturbing to the rest of us.
While international law will once again prove powerless to wage justice, trumped by politics and powerful religious toxicants, it is the regime to consider the disposition of such issues. And, paradoxically, it needs to try and fail to continue its development as an essential and durable institution in a world where borders are melting while belief systems—in this case formed by religion—are becoming the new framework of social order. These belief systems—ideologies—are becoming the sticky tendons in the web of social order. Those that do not comply with international norms and laws must be exposed and made to bear responsibility. If not, the endemic anarchy of the waning state-centric international system where sovereignty assured impunity for privileged criminals (heads of state) will live on. Human rights will continue to be distributed unevenly. Systemic conflict will be the new norm.
Crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum,
are particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; extermination; torture; rape and political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice.
So, the questions for the Pope, the Catholic Church, and you as judge are these:
- Do we have a crime against humanity? Does sodomy and rape qualify? Are they “particularly odious offences” resulting in the “degradation of one or more human beings”?
- If yes, were they more than “isolated or sporadic”? Were they “tolerated or condoned” by “a de facto authority”?
- If yes, can we identify those involved? Who did it? Who “tolerated or condoned” it? Who enabled or concealed the crimes—who are the accessories?
- Finally, is there a local, state, or federal court that can assert jurisdiction? For that matter, is there any court that can?
- If none can be found, we have only the International Criminal Court (ICC) to look to, as a court of last resort. But, fortunately, the ICC does have authority to prosecute crimes against humanity (together with genocide and war crimes). That’s their job.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Generally the United Nations refers cases to the ICC after using their investigative resources to form the case. The Vatican, which is recognized as a sovereign state that happens to be located in Rome, Italy, is not a member-state of the ICC. But Ireland and Germany are, where known victims reside, diocese exist, and offenses took place (the U.S. is not a member). Ireland and/or Germany would have to refer the case to the ICC. The chances of Ireland doing so are nil. Germany, however, where church members are lined up to resign their membership in the Catholic Church at government offices (a requirement in Germany) and from whence Cardinal Ratzinger-cum-Pope Benedict hails, just might.
The real court in this case will likely not be the ICC, although justice may yet be done. As members resign and coffers are drained, somewhere in the Catholic Church the stark brutality of the crimes will be exorcised. My guess is members of Opus Dei are already contemplating how to save the Church. To survive and prosper in a world where religion is achieving a renaissance of power will not be lost on its stakeholders. There are so many more converts to seek, so many more baptisms to perform, so much more power to be had. In the mean time, I wouldn’t expect Pope Benedict to be traveling far beyond the sovereignty of the .2 square miles of Vatican City.