The Pope may be up on charges related to child abuse

Here’s an interesting one for you. Back in the 1990s a Catholic seminarian molested three children. He’s currently on the run. So far, so sad-but-unsurprising.

The interesting bit is that a court case has now been raised in the US naming the former Cardinal Ratzinger (who at the time ran the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), who is now Pope Benedict XVI, and several others as being part of a conspiracy to conceal the abuse. Previously such cases have been dismissed by US courts because the Pope is the head of state of the Holy See, and US law gives heads of state immunity from prosecution for reasons of international harmony (I assume). As such it would seem that the case can’t go any further.

This is where it gets really interesting: they’ve tried this before and failed, but in that response the Vatican named itself as a church, and the First Amendment has a clause that bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” As such, because the Vatican and the Holy See has now established that it is a church, not a state, the new case can go ahead.

Obviously this is a very serious matter, but I find myself very intrigued by the religious ramifications for Catholicism if the Pope is prosecuted. What does it mean for a faith if their envoy of God on the earth is convicted of attempting to conceal child abuse? The concealment is argued to be because the Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a letter saying that child abuse would be dealt with by the church itself without need for external influence, in other words they wouldn’t tell the authorities. How far would mainstream Catholicism stick with their support for this defence if their leader is prosecuted for it? Would a new pope be selected? It’s interesting stuff. To be honest, I’d be very surprised if this got any further than an attempt, I suspect that higher levels of the US government would step in to prevent prosecution of the Pope, but the possibility is nonetheless thought provoking.

More info here.

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