Wednesday, 8 September 2010

'The success will be if people listen to him'

CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh in a video interview following his briefing on the papal visit to 60 BBC journalists in White City.

Pope's message to Britain

at his Wednesday audience. Text here.

The Vatican is a real state

So says CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh in a further riposte to Geoffrey Robertson's LSE lecture tonight, in the Guardian's 'Comment is Free'. See his previous pieces here and here.

Tatchell's hatchet swings wide

Damian Thompson has seen Peter Tatchell's forthcoming C4 documentary on the Pope -- to be broadcast Monday night -- and finds it full of schoolboy errors. And so crude that it's way off-target. And he notes:

Tatchell mostly interviews people who share his views, or represent those of a liberal lobby within the Catholic Church. One of the few exceptions is a woman called Fiona O’Reilly from the mainstream group Catholic Voices, who – alone among Tatchell’s interviewees – is not allowed to finish her sentences without being interrupted.

The wiles of Geoffrey Robertson QC

The Independent today runs an extract from Geoffrey Robertson's new book, on which he lectures tonight at the LSE, under the headline 'The Pope: Witness for the Prosecution'. It deploys every technique barristers learn in presenting their cases -- scattering half-truths, although never actually asserting them as true ("be that as it may", "however that may be"), but gradually building up a monstrous picture with plenty of spicy detail about the horror of clerical sex abuse, and concluding with an argument which seems, on the basis of the accumulated "evidence", to be quite reasonable:

That issue should be decided objectively, and not simply by the actions of nations which have, usually for domestic political reasons, sent diplomatic representatives to the Holy See and received papal nuncios in return. The Catholic Church must be answerable for the way it has sheltered paedophile priests: its pretensions to statehood should not give it immunity in international law nor in international affairs more than its due as one of a number of respected world religions.
Yet Robertson's entire case rests on quicksand -- the myth, never actually stated but constantly suggested,  that the Vatican's statehood somehow extends to the Church worldwide. The Church -- its parishes, schools, dioceses, institutions across the world -- has no claim to statehood, or immunity. It is not above the law, any more than any other institutions in the countries where it is present. It has no sovereignty, except -- and in an extremely limited way -- in the Vatican itself, a tiny area mostly taken up by a massive basilica, where a few thousand people work (but mostly they live in Rome, not in the Vatican, and therefore in Italy). It has no capacity to "shelter paedophile priests" even if it wanted to. But it doesn't. There is not a single case of the Vatican using its sovereign immunity to protect an abusive priest -- or indeed any other criminal -- from the law of any country; and nor would it, for there would be (rightly) an international outcry.

Robertson, of course, never points out this crucial fact, because he is trying to demonstrate what he calls "plain facts" -- another barrister technique: if facts are "plain", they must surely be true --"that sexual abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church has been at a level considerably above that in any other organisation" (entirely untrue: the evidence points the other way) "and that it has been covered up by many bishops with the support and at the direction of the Vatican". That it has been "covered up" by bishops who failed, historically, to act on allegations, or (more commonly) chose, in line with the practice of the time, to refer abusers to therapists, is indeed a "plain fact". But "with the support and at the direction of the Vatican"?

This assertion is so wild -- and Robertson knows it -- that he now needs to demonstrate it. Instead, he returns to the failures by bishops, but never pointing out the distinction between Vatican and the local dioceses.  "The cover-up has included an almost visceral refusal to call in the police, the swearing of complainants and witnesses to utter secrecy, and proceedings under a clandestine canon law biased towards the accused priest and in any event threatening no real punishment for the guilty."

The first part of this assertion may be true in early cases, except the canon law part -- if anything emerges clearly from the clerical sex abuse crisis, it is that canon law (which calls for justice, penalties and reparation, incuding laicisation -- the greatest punishment the Church in its own law is capable of imposing) was entirely ignored by bishops -- but how is this "at the direction of the Vatican"? The only evidence he can cite is an instance in 2001 "when Pope John Paul II and his top cardinals agreed to congratulate a French bishop for hiding a paedophile priest from the police"; but this was not a letter from the Pope, but from Cardinal Dario Castrillon-Hoyos, head of the Congregation of the Clergy, which directly went against the Pope's own motu propio of that year, and the Cardinal Ratzinger-led reforms it led to which demanded action by bishops, civil and canonical, against abusive priests -- which is why the letter, when it came to light earlier this year, caused such a scandal, not least in the Vatican. (Castrillon-Hoyos, it ought be pointed out, is long retired).  

Robertson knows he is on weak ground and so, as good barristers do, he concedes lack of evidence -- while at the same time claiming that the evidence is there. "There are few recorded instances of attempts to hold the Vatican itself, or its pontiff, liable for the church practices of hiding paedophile priests, or covering up their crimes, or for moving them on to different parishes despite knowing of their predisposition to reoffend," he concedes -- actually a very large concession indeed, which, if read carefully, utterly destroys his case. But you do have to read it carefully, because the wording is carefully constructed: not "there are few or no recorded instances" but "there are few recorded instances of attempts to hold the Vatican or its Pontiff liable" -- a sleight of hand which focuses his audience away from the lack of evidence and onto what he wants to portray as inaction by the international community. This is what barristers are paid to do.  

It would not help his case, of course, to find that the Pope is vigorous in condemning clerical sex abuse of minors, and quick to admonish its perpetrators and demand that they face justice. And so he takes Benedict XVI's letter to the Irish Church earlier this year, and gives it a quick gloss:

"The problem was highlighted by the Pope's apology to his Irish faithful in March 2010: while condemning the sin he could not bring himself to damn the sinners – thrice he told the perpetrators that forgiveness was theirs for the asking and praying and repenting. This is hardly a deterrent to weak men tempted to abuse children."
Get the idea? Offer forgiveness to the perpetrators, but not hold them to justice? Here's what the Pope said in that letter to abuser priests:

You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals.... I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow. Sincere repentance opens the door to God’s forgiveness and the grace of true amendment. By offering prayers and penances for those you have wronged, you should seek to atone personally for your actions. Christ’s redeeming sacrifice has the power to forgive even the gravest of sins, and to bring forth good from even the most terrible evil. At the same time, God’s justice summons us to give an account of our actions and to conceal nothing. Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy. 
One could go on. The article is so full of untruths it is hard to reach the end of a sentence without gasping at the audacity, the mendacity of it. But without a reasonable working knowledge of the truth, it will prove effective in persuading some of the jury - -I mean the public -- to believe it.  And of course there is no Witness for the Defence, because this, ladies and gentlemen, is a kangaroo court.

Pope meeting with abuse victims confirmed

Although the Catholic Church in England and Wales is refusing officially to confirm it -- while strongly hinting that it is likely -- the chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission has told the Wall Street Journal that Pope Benedict XVI is "expected to talk with as many as 10" clergy abuse survivors on his trip to the UK.

Bill Kilgallon, head of the body responsible for overseeing child protection guidelines in the UK Catholic Church, is arrranging the encounter, but has given no details of the participants, date or location, saying that "for the individuals it's a private matter".

The WSJ carries quotes from victims who dismiss the move as a Vatican PR stunt. Margaret Kennedy of the Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors group in the UK tells the newspaper that the meeting should be an open, public one.