Can you imagine the pope behind the bars? Now, in the beginning of the 21st century? If not, you're certainly not alone. Many people can't. It would be a fairly new thing in history. Though they were poisoned, stabbed with daggers and swords, some even kept locked in their rooms, popes don't get arrested and put on trial. If yes, you are not alone as well. Atheist activists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins started a campaign to have the Pope arrested for the crimes against humanity when he visits the UK later this year.
On one side there is something that is almost imaginable. On the other is the principle that almost everybody is equal in front of the law. Behind it all is, as always, dirty politics.
So, what's the history of all this? Not so long ago, back in the 80's, there was an American priest that committed the clergy's favourite crime: a sex offence against two boys. There is probably some less known message from God saying that sins like that trump the commandment about false witnessing, so the Church did what it regularly does in those cases: it covered the sick bastard. The guy who did the dirty job in this case was Joseph Alois Ratzinger now known as Bendictus XVI, the Pope. And there is an official letter signed by him to make the case in the court.
Great Britain would certainly like to avoid all the mess. There are millions of people around the globe that would feel very bad seeing their religious leader behind the bars. If you have ever seen the hysteria and fanaticism that follows the pope-mobil you know what I mean. By all means the establishment will try to lower the damage.
It seems that the easiest way out is to play on Pope's diplomatic immunity. He is the head of the state, The State of Vatican City. Problem is that UK doesn't have embassy in Vatican since 2006. so the announced counter-argument is that UK doesn't recognize Vatican as a sovereign state. But the Pope is also the head of the Holy See which is, contrary to Dawkin's hopes, internationally recognized entity with observer seat in the UN. For the detailed explanation of diplomatic relations of Vatican and Holy See with the rest of the world check Sir Ivor Roberts' analysis in The Times Online.
photo by dandellion
I personally doubt that Dawkins and Hitchens see the Pope arrested and put on trial, let alone sitting in prison for crimes against humanity. They may be fanatics, but they are not out of their minds. They know that the best they can get is to make the Pope cancel his visit. But making some noise, getting lots of media attention and provoking the questions is their real aim. And that they get already.
All this doesn't have much to do with religion or atheism. It's politics. And while the arrest of the Pope would cheer up many self-proclaimed atheists, it wouldn't do much harm to christianity or religion. It might shake the Church, but the whole battle is going on the wrong grounds. And that's something that atheist activists are so inclined to forget. To be fair, large portion of christians also mix the church and the religion.
This is not the first time in history that battles for political power are disguised in religion. Nor it's the first time that sexually abused children are used for personal political promotion. But the only role of children in politics is to be exploited. One way or another.