Pope Benedict could face court over sex crimes in the church

The Conversation

Not a day goes by without further allegations of rape and sexual abuse being made against the Catholic Church. The vast majority of accusations relate to abuse perpetrated outside the Vatican’s walls, in dioceses around the world. Evidence suggests, however, that high ranking members of the Church’s hierarchy were well aware of these despicable acts and actively shielded the perpetrators from criminal investigations. This has led to repeatedcalls for Benedict XVI to be held personally accountable for the grave harm inflicted on innumerable children.

To date, attempts to prosecute Benedict have been stymied by his immunity as the Head of State of the Vatican City. His resignation, however, changes the game and opens up the possibility that warrants will now be issued for his arrest.

Prosecuting a former head of state

The status of the Holy See and the Vatican under international law is anomalous. But for all intents and purposes, the Vatican City has been equated to a sovereign state since the Lateran Treaty of 1929, with the Pope as its head. International law accords complete immunity to heads of state from the jurisdiction of other states while they are in office. They retain this immunity with respect to acts performed in an official capacity even after leaving office.

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