Canto: John Allen, a Catholic journalist and author of a bio of the current pope, has written an article, reprinted in the Weekend Australian, in Herr Ratzinger's defence. He makes two main points - legal eagles have no real basis on which to arrest the pope, and second, the pope shouldn't be targeted anyway because 'no senior figure in the Catholic Church has done more to combat priestly sex abuse.'
Jacinta: Allen describes all this, rather condescendingly, in terms of two 'misunderstandings', one of international law, the other of the pope's record. On the first point, he says that the pope isn't the head of state of the Vatican, a 43 hectare estate in Rome, but of the Holy See, a non-physical location which is the seat of the 'central government' of the Catholic Church.
Canto: Which seems a mere technical matter - he still has sovereign status, and that is the point. That he is in fact the sovereign head of a non-physical state only makes his position all the more absurd and anomolous.
Jacinta: Or maybe it is physical - maybe he's the sovereign of all the - quite considerable - territory owned by the Catholic Church worldwide.
Canto: No, they couldn't claim that. Those lands are still under the jurisdiction of the states in which they're situated. Or at least nowadays they are - in the earlier halcyon days of the RCC, they may well have claimed that church land was different, inviolate.
Jacinta: Sanctuary! Yes, I remember it from all the old movies. It's interesting that Allen writes of the 'central government' of the Church. Think government, think political entity. Think responsible political entity. On the one hand, when it wants to absolve itself from responsibility, the Catholic hierarchy describes the Church as a devolved organisation, administered at the local level, but when it wants sovereignty it describes itself as a government.
Canto: Well said, Jacinta, and Allen writes this in defence of sovereignty:
Sovereignty is designed to protect the papacy from undue influence by any one nation, allowing the Pope and his diplomatic corps to act as a neutral force of conscience on the global stage.This is unconvincing, to say the least. Sovereignty is designed, first and foremost, to raise the status of the pope, and the Catholic Church in general. Sovereignty is not required to protect the pope's 'neutrality' - many organisations operate effectively under the banner of neutrality - the International Red Cross, Medecins sans Frontieres, as well as more clearly driven conscience organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International - without requiring sovereignty.
Jacinta: And what is the Pope doing with a diplomatic corps? Does Amnesty International have a diplomatic corps? Clearly the Vatican has political pretensions, and these pretensions need to be quashed. The best way to do that would be to strip it of statehood. Allen describes the 'legal independence' of the Vatican as allowing the Pope and his envoys to be 'the most important moral critics of the 2003 invasion of Iraq'. I'd like to know how Allen measures 'importance', but that aside, such criticisms don't require 'legal independence'. I'm sure the Quakers were just as morally outraged by that invasion, and just as vocal, but they don't have the resources of the RCC. Legal independence shouldn't enter into it.
Canto: Hey, wasn't it Catholic fantasies about its legal independence that got them into this mess in the first place? They're the last organisation that should be claiming legal independence - they can't be trusted with it.
Jacinta: And I'm bemused by Allen's claim that the RCC acts as a neutral voice of conscience. Can a conscience be neutral? The Catholic Church, to be fair, campaigns on a number of issues, such as the alleviation of poverty and the prevention of war, which are unobjectionable, to me at least, but it also lobbies on a number of issues from an ultra-conservative position - on abortion, on homosexuality [and just about everything related to sex], on stem cell research and so forth. A neutral voice of conscience? I hardly think so.
Canto: Now let's move on, more briefly, to the second point - the 'misunderstanding' about the pope's attitude towards sexual abuse. Allen praises the pope's role in this, presumably referring to the fact that, in 2001, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was given responsibility, by the then pope, for investigating cases of priestly child abuse. In other words, the role given to him made it imperative that he do more about it than any other Catholic.
Jacinta: Yes, so even if it's true that he's done more than any other Catholic, that's because it was his position to do so, and it still isn't saying much. After all, nobody would have had anything like the power to bring about change that Ratzinger had after 2001, and on that basis, and considering how changed the public attitude was by that time, his record doesn't seem so impressive. He seems to have held the conservative line largely, downplaying the number of priests involved, extending the statute of limitations to a mere ten years [for internal investigations - thus maintaining the usual lag in basic humanity between Catholic 'law' and the only law that should really matter, the secular law], and sending out a letter to all bishops emphasizing the penalties for breaching the confidentiality of matters under [internal] investigation. Let's maintain the secrecy, gentlemen, our Church depends upon it.
Jacinta: Yes, there was no great change of direction under Ratzinger in those years, and now he's under legitimate scrutiny for not doing enough when matters were brought to his, or his office's, attention. At least John Allen is honest enough in his article to admit that some issues need to be investigated further.
Canto: Yes, and by anyone but the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. No more Catholic immunity, no more Catholic secrecy, no more Canon law!