|Call to Treat Vatican As a Rogue State
Sydney Morning Herald
September 8, 2010
Lawyer Geoffrey Robertson says the church must abandon canon law, writes Paola Totaro.
THE Vatican should be treated as a kind of "rogue state" by the rest of the world until it stops using statehood - and the ancient rules of the canon law - to protect paedophile priests.
So says Geoffrey Robertson, QC, the veteran human rights lawyer and United Nations judge, arguing that the Catholic Church is the only religion permitted under international law to claim the privileges of statehood and its leaders immunity from civil or criminal action.
In his new book, The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse published as a Penguin special in Britain - and in Australia at the weekend - Mr Robertson urges the world to press the Catholic Church into abandoning canon law, the ancient set of ecclesiastical rules that also define disciplinary provisions for offences ranging from sex crimes to ordaining women.
However, these punishments, sometimes meted out under mediaeval written procedures run by fellow priests, allow "neither cross-examination and medical examination, nor DNA testing" and "no punishment worthy of that name", he says.
"The worst that can happen, other than an order to do penance, is 'laicisation'; that
is, defrocking, which permits the paedophile to leave the church and get a job in a state school or care home, without anyone knowing of this conviction. Canon law has no sex offenders registry.
"While there can be no objection to an organisation disciplining members for a breach of arcane rules, there is every objection when those breaches amount to serious crimes and the organisation claims the right to deal with them internally without reporting them to the police.
"And that is precisely what the Vatican has been doing: instead of reporting to law enforcement authorities those priests it knows to be guilty of raping children, and to be likely to rape more children in the future, it has been dealing with them under canon law, which demands utmost pontifical secrecy, moving them to other parishes and letting them off with admonitions and unenforceable penances … usually to say prayers for their victims."
Mr Robertson told the Herald that canon law is defective in failing to put the interests of children first, in not requiring compensation for victims and in condemning whistleblowers.
One of the cases he discusses is that of the Dapto priest Maurie Crocker, who had to go to his local newspaper to inform on paedophile priests in Wollongong but was ostracised and later committed suicide. "Some of my family came from Dapto and the story moved me - however hard it is for clergy to inform on their brothers, they must learn that the interests of children are paramount."
Mr Robertson said: "The incidence of clerical sexual abuse of children is much higher than has previously been understood - tens of thousands - probably up to a hundred thousand children have been molested by priests since 1981 … This scandal has come about because [the church] under Cardinal Ratzinger [the present Pope], insisted that all child abuse allegations be dealt with under the 'pontifical secrecy' provisions of canon law."
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