British Qc Takes on Bishop Porteous

By Anthony Barich
The Record
September 29, 2010

Geoffrey Robertson

Internationally-known human rights lawyer and prominent atheist Geoffrey Robertson QC, who wanted Pope Benedict XVI arrested during his recent visit to the UK, has been stung by an Australian Bishop’s response to some of his claims in a recent article

British QC Geoffrey Robertson’s claim that the Church has merely admonished priests it knows “to be guilty of raping children” is false and malicious, Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Julian Porteous said.

His comment came after Robertson challenged Bishop Porteous to point out any errors after the prelate stated in the Catholic Weekly on 16 September that the QC’s latest book The Case of The Pope: Vatican accountability for Human Rights Abuses “contains many false claims”.

Bishop Porteous expanded on these claims in a column published on 22 September in The Record.

In a 26 September statement issued to The Record after Robertson’s challenge, Bishop Porteous said the QC’s claim of “the Church” admonishing guilty priests and switching them between parishes is false.

Bishop Porteous quoted Austen McIvereigh’s 6 September article The Case against Geoffrey Robertson in America Magazine: “The Vatican does not deal with abusive priests, local dioceses or congregations do. Where these have failed to act against abusive priests, it has not been because they have resorted to canon law instead of civil law, but because they failed to resort to either canon or civil law”.

The prelate also refuted the internationally known QC’s assertion that canon law does not allow cross-examination or DNA and other testing.

“Church legal proceedings allow the judge to interrogate the parties in the case, including the accused priest, call expert witnesses,” he said.

“While there is a different approach to the trial (inquisitorial rather than adversarial), both systems of law allow for the testing of claims and evidence, and the introduction of scientific or any other evidence.”

Robertson said it was clear the Bishop had not read his book and accused the prelate of “negativity”, saying: “I wrote the book in the hope that my suggestions for canon law reform might help in the present crisis.”

“I would be obliged if (Bishop Porteous) would point the (errors) out: if I have made any error of fact, I will ensure it is corrected,” he said. “The only example he gives is not a mistake, but rather a conclusion that I have drawn from the evidence, namely that the imposition of ‘pontifical secrecy’ at the beginning of the canon law process and forever after (Crimen Sollicitationis, paragraphs 11 and 23) effectively precludes the reporting of offenders by the Church to the police, because to do so would make the reporter liable to excommunication.”

Robertson said his conclusion is the same as that drawn by the recent judicial commission in Ireland, which found that these canonical secrecy provisions “undoubtedly constitute an inhibition on the reporting of child sex abuse to the civil authorities or others”.

He also charged that Bishop Porteous had erred in suggesting that, in April, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith “affirmed the importance of crimes being reported to the police”.

“In my book – which he evidently has not read – I explain that this appeared in a Vatican website guide for laypersons in April but was implicitly disavowed when the Pope promulgated his ‘New Norms’ – de gravioribus delictis – in July, which omitted any mention of reporting offenders to the police. (Jesuit) Fr (Federico) Lombardi, the Pope’s spokesman, admitted that inclusion of such a duty had been considered, but rejected,” Robertson said.

However, Bishop Porteous pointed out that while Robertson’s claim that the 2010 version of the protocols omitted reference to reporting offenders is correct, “his assumptions about the reasons are not correct”.

“This is a protocol for the universal Church and different countries have their own laws of reporting,” the prelate said. “In Australia, there are different reporting requirements in various States.”

Bishop Porteous also rejected Robertson’s claim that the Church claims immunity from civil or criminal action.

As Austen Ivereigh had already pointed out, he said, as part of its sovereignty, the Vatican claims the right, in all States where its Church operates, to deal with its priests and other Religious under canon law. But canon law is not contingent on recognition of its sovereignty.

“Church law does not replace or override civil law; it is a parallel, complementary jurisdiction, not an alternative.”

Bishop Porteous’ article in The Record, which was also quoted in The Catholic Weekly, was responding to an article of Roberston’s published in The New Statesman on 8 September.


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