Lawsuit of the Day: Space Alien Followers V. Pope Benedict (no, Seriously)

Elie Mystal
September 13, 2010

A prophet, who now goes by the name “Rael,” once encountered space aliens who told him the secret of life. Later, his followers, “the Raelians,” set up an advocacy group to expose pedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church. But the group’s work was frustrated when Pope Benedict XVI (a.k.a. Joe Ratzinger) covered up the crimes of Catholic priests, in an effort to discredit the Raelians and suppress their message.

If I were writing fiction, this would be about the point where Tom Hanks holds a black light up to a window in Washington National Cathedral to reveal the precise location of Area 51. But before he can tell anybody, Al Pacino (heretofore unobtrusively sitting in a pew, drinking a glass of orange juice) makes Hanks an offer he can’t refuse.

But this isn’t fiction; this is the real world. In the real world, there is only one way to handle this kind of massive conspiracy, cover-up, and intrigue: a lawsuit.

And so it is that today, on the thirteenth of September in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, that Pope Benedict XVI finds himself sued in the High Court of Justice: Queen’s Bench Division, for tortious interference with business…

We’ve obtained a copy of the lawsuit filed by the European Raelian Movement against Pope Benedict. Their press release pretty nicely sums up what’s going on here:

The European Raelian Movement (ERM) has filed a lawsuit in the High Court, Queen’s Bench Division, against Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger. Allegations in the suit include charges of violating international human rights laws, perpetrating genocide by continuing to claim that condoms don’t stop the spread of AIDS, and stating that Pope Benedict and the Vatican orchestrated a campaign of disinformation against the business of the ERM after its membership reported on these matters.

The ERM says it can prove its allegations.

Anybody in the mood for some allegations? From the lawsuit:

6. In 2001, the Raelian Movement established the advocacy group NOPEDO to unmask and expose the fostering and cover up of pedophilia among the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.

7. On September 2002, the Raelian Movement publicly filed and Urgent Appeal with Mr. Juan Miguel Petit, the Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child, Pornography at the Office Of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations at Geneva detailing child trafficking, procurement, and sexual abuse by agents of the Roman Catholic Church that violated Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography….

13. In 2001, defendant as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the “Holy Office,” formerly known as the “Office of the Inquisition” issued a letter to all bishops of the Catholic Church concerning some “very grave sins” and the secret manner in which they were to be covered up….

15. In 2001, the activities of NOPEDO came to the attention of the defendant who instructed his agents in Belgium and Switzerland to commence a libel action against NOPEDO and the Raelian Movement which resulted in an order by the Belgian courts based upon knowingly false assertions made by defendant that his organization did not promote or cover up pedophilia and an unsuccessful attempt by the defendant’s agents in Switzerland to misuse the court system in the same fashion.

15. [sic] The defendant by 2002 also became aware of the Raelian Movement’s stances on condoms and stem cell research and ordered his agents in Quebec and worldwide to commence a campaign of deliberate disinformation against claimant branding claimant as a dangerous cult.

So, just who are the Raelians? I’m so glad you asked. From “The Message” section on the Raelians’ homepage:

For centuries, scholars have been debating the two main possibilities for the origin and meaning of life. Some aspire to a higher philosophical dimension, which they can’t find in the theory of evolution, while others dismiss as irrational any reference to an almighty god.

But what if another theory, one both rational and with philosophical depth, were to be available?

This is what the “Message” proposes: Thousands of years ago, scientists from another planet came to Earth and created all forms of life, including human beings, whom they created in their own image. References to these scientists and their work can be found in the ancient texts of many cultures. Due to their highly advanced technology, they were considered as gods by our primitive ancestors and often referred to as ‘Elohim’ which in ancient Hebrew meant ‘Those who came from the sky’.

In case you were wondering, yes, there was in fact a very good Star Trek (old generation) episode which explored this very concept. And there is something Kirk-like about the Raelian “prophet,” Claude Vorilhon. He was a race car driver before the space alien scientists chose him to spread their message.

We could go on and on about the Raelians (though I fear that if I do any more Raelian research, I’ll end up buying books, or drinking some bad Kool-Aid). Absent magical underwear, this movement seems like it’s in danger of second-class status.

But there is “law” at issue here, isn’t there? Here’s how it’s put in the complaint:

16. As a result of defendant’s ongoing affirmative campaign of disinformation against the Raelian Movement and its members have suffered persecution and damage to their reputations and interference in their lives and business affairs including direct damages.

17. Punitive damages are warranted due to the oppressive conduct of the defendant as part of the cover up of pedophilia within the Catholic Church and is calculated to profit the defendant by minimizing abuse claims by attacking the reputation of victim advocates and mitigating the defendant’s losses at the expense of victims of pedophilia by Catholic priests.

I talked with Dr. Jonathan Levy. He’s the solicitor at Brimstone & Co. who is representing the European Raelian Movement in this matter. I asked him if there were any substantive difference between the American version of tortious interference with business and the British flavor (or British flavour, if you must). Here’s what he told me:

Tortious interference is roughly the same although it overlaps with defamation. The High Court Master reviewed the filing before permitting it to be issued and did want more particulars in an amended version.

The defamation aspect is interesting. Not “make a British court find against the Pope in favor of an atheist cult” interesting, but it’s a nice little wrinkle.

Ricky Roehr, U.S. Raelian spokesperson, put the capstone on today’s events:

Roehr said the Vatican enjoys observer status in the United Nations because it is wrongly recognized as a state, and that this status has been protecting the pope and Vatican officials in most countries under diplomatic immunity agreements. But U.K. laws provide a way around this, he said.

“These people claim to be representatives of a God of love but cover up pedophilia crimes?” Roehr asked. “They spread false propaganda about those who speak the truth about their crimes and they also cause millions to suffer by telling Catholics in Third World countries who know little of science that condoms don’t stop the spread of AIDS. Where is their love? What is that God?”

The Pope, aliens, pedophiles, AIDS, and tort law. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the season premiere of South Park.


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