Rumor has it that Richard Dawkins, along with Christopher Hitchens, plan to use the same legal gambit that allowed the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, to arrest Pope Benedict XVI for his alleged involvement in the cover-up of Catholic priest sexual abuse cases.
Do you think Dawkins has gone to far?
If you do, please reconsider.
If instead of the Pope, we were talking about a syphilitic African dictator who had, according to various vague news stories you may have heard over the years, supervised the rape and killing of untold people you never heard of before. You’d probably be rather ho-hum about this. Suppose it was a scary looking bushy-faced multisyllabic Eastern European that the Western Press had linked, on the evening news where all important legal decisions are made in the US, with really bad stuff that had something to do with mass graves or something-or-another. You’d probably figure, “Oh, good, they got that guyovitch. I guess you can’t really be a bad guy for the rest of your life according to Katie Kouric and get away with it.”
But when you hear about t he Pope being arrested for a cover up, the first thing you think might be rather different. It might be either a) You can’t arrest the pope because he’s clearly uninvolved in the details, and he’s the head of a religion, and doesn’t really order these things directly and so on and so forth; and/or b) This Dawkins Character is taking this too far! Sure, the Pope has not acted correctly here, but Dawkins and Hitchens are just going to get Atheism in trouble and cause more problems than any gain from such hard line tactics could possibly achieve and they should really just sit down and shut up! THIS is what gives the so called New Atheists a bad name?
And if these thoughts occurred to you, especially the second one, I ask you: Why the double standard? Why, as a relatively uninformed individual, are you willing in your own mind to assume the guilt of Ubudumbu Kuku Kibombi of Bungabungaland, or to mentally convict Slobbychin Katchthebusovitch of Moroonionia, on the grounds of the facial expression the nightly news caster uses when mentioning them, but to assume the Pope’s innocence no matter what? Why are you willing to consider any means, or really, to not even know about the method, of the arrest of run of the mill leaders of countries of run of the mill places you know nothing about, while jumping out of your skin in outrage over New Atheists Ruinzing it for Everyonez!!!11!! just because this time the bad guy is the head of the Catholic Religion?
OK, so maybe you didn’t exactly jump out of your skin, but you did get a little hot under the collar, didn’t you? You think “Yeah, the Pope is a dope … he probably did something wrong and in an ideal world, maybe he should even go to jail.” … But you cringed when you heard about Dawkins’ plan because … once again ” … don’t these New Atheists know when to stop….?”
If those were your thoughts, what you’d be missing is the part about how the other bad guys got arrested. There were hard line, hard nosed, hard asses in prosecutorial and other legal bodies working for years, with huge staffs, amassing evidence, playing the legal game, with the intention all along, from day one to day N, of arresting the bad guy, somehow, some way, no matter what it took.
But with the Pope, there is nothing. No agency of any government or of the UN can buck the fabric of our society which says, no matter what your religion or lack thereof may be, that religion is special. Not only can you not arrest a religious leader, but you can’t expect a religious organization to follow the rules that all other organizations follow.
What is even more important is this: If you take an alternate stand, that the Pope is at best just another head of state (but not really, because the Vatican is not universally recognized as a country), that a religious organization has the same legal and social responsibilities as any other organization, and that when crimes area committed by individuals who happen to be members of a church … and this is important … those crimes were not committed by a church member … they were committed by a citizen of some country or another, by a person who happens to be a member of a church, and therefore by a person subject to the same law every other person is subuect to … if you take that stand, then YOU are considered the person doing something wrong. Not the perp. You.
So, if you were thinking that Dawkins is going over the top to use his position and money to step in where the Crown or some other government has failed, then you are actually getting it all quite backwards. There is a very small step from what you were thinking to blaming the victims. And unfortunately, there is a long line of people either blaming the victims or failing to stand with them. Get in line.
Or, you could get in line in a different sense. Recognize that although the Catholic Church is certainly special in many ways (it’s rich, strange, big, and powerful) it and its employees are no different than you or me or anyone else. Not special.
The problem is not that Dawkins has gone too far. The problem is that you have not gone far enough.
* Well, not really, but he should, dammit!