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Geoffrey Robertson’s case is based on caricature and ignorance

His talk last night could have been delivered in an academic and reasonable way. Instead it felt like The Pope on Trial: The Musical

By on Thursday, 9 September 2010

Last night I squeezed into a packed lecture theatre at the London School of Economics to hear Geoffrey Robertson QC present “The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuses”. Although I approached with some trepidation, I felt determined to keep an open mind and I was immediately reassured by the chairman’s insistence that the lecture was an academic assessment of the sexual abuse crisis. I therefore assumed that although I may not agree with Mr Robertson’s conclusions he would at least, in accordance with the values of academia, construct his case on the foundation of a sound and sophisticated understanding of the Catholic Church and canon law. Furthermore, he would be able to detach himself from any personal objections to the Church’s moral teaching and not allow this to flavour his tone.

My hopes were dashed after about 90 seconds. Robertson’s dramatic prologue introduced a “typical” paedophile priest who would be perfect for The Pope On Trial: The Musical but did not accord to reality. Paedophile priests are apparently “lonely” and “sexually frustrated” individuals, shackled by the vow of celibacy and the Church’s teaching that masturbation is a mortal sin. Supposedly then, Robertson’s pseudo-psychological investigations have discovered a form of priest who molests and rapes young children, but when it comes to masturbation and sexual relations, he is paralysed by the fear of eternal damnation, his selective scruples overwhelm him and his heart brims with obedience and loyalty to the Church.

The reality of the sexual abuse crisis is that it is disgusting and heartbreaking. As a Catholic especially, I find it impossible to read about the terrible cases that have come to light without feeling deep anger and sorrow for innocent children who have suffered so unspeakably. One simply cannot begin to imagine what the victims feel and suffer. But a recurring feature in this discussion seems to be profound ignorance by vocal critics about how canonical procedure works within the Church and the fundamental misunderstanding that the Church utilises its internal disciplinary procedures to usurp civil law. This misunderstanding was the basic premise on which Robertson built his case.

Given the severity of the sexual abuse crisis, it was in some ways encouraging that Geoffrey Robertson’s lecture was so busy, because it seemed to signify concern about victims of sexual abuse and a sincere desire to critically assess the solutions. On the other hand, objective analysis of very harrowing cases can have a dehumanising effect. During last night’s talk the ability to “detach” reached uncomfortable new boundaries when a surprising amount of tittering erupted while Robertson jovially discussed the merits of using the term “sodomising” when talking on US television about the sexual abuse of children. Within academic discussions, we are often rightly encouraged to “take a step back”, but this lighthearted slant was very far away from the pain at the heart of the issue.

The need to safeguard every vulnerable member of the Catholic Church from abuse in any form requires critical thought based on solid knowledge and must be tempered with compassion and sensitivity. Unfortunately, last night’s lecture did not strike this balance.

  • Olivia

    Great article and excellent analysis of the event! He spoke very well, engagingly, but regardless of the truth of his case, some of his jokes were terribly off-colour.

    I felt that there was no real sympathy for the abused children he said he sought to protect, and jokes were made essentially at their expense…

  • GBullough

    “…the fundamental misunderstanding that the Church utilises its internal disciplinary procedures to usurp civil law…”

    This shows that the writer has his own “fundamental misunderstanding” of how the Roman Church acted AS A MATTER OF POLICY to “avoid scandal.” It was not at all uncommon for a bishop or one of his minions to ring up a Catholic prosecutor or chief of police and come to some private “deal” that involved the priest being sent for treatment and then re-located. This in return for there being no public prosecution, indeed, no publicity of any sort.

    To deny that this happened and that it continues to happen in some areas of the world entirely discredits the author as a commentator on this subject and betrays him as nothing more than yet another apologist for the Church of Rome.

  • logos27

    There is no interest in Child Abuse per se. Otherwise these figures would be investigating and publicising the huge cover-ups of child abuse in British and US secular Schools, Childrens Homes, Approved SChools and social services, as well as scandals like those in Jersey and elsewhere. they would be looking at abuse in the Anglican Church, and Judaism and Islam, and in the history of the Lesbian and Gay movement to which the “man Boy Love Association” was formally affiliated for over a decade. . But they are not interested in this. They are out to attack the Catholic Church. Why the Catholic Church? Because it is the biggest opponent of their agenda of sexual promiscuity, gay-marriage and adoption, divorce, contraception, abortion, experimentation on embryos, genetic modification, eugenics and euthanasia.

    We have to realise that it is no use appealing to these people's sense of fair-play, academic integrity and honesty – they have none. These people must be exposed for the charlatans and bigots they are.

  • Toots Porter

    It is quite obvious that the “profound ignorance by vocal critics about how canonical procedure works within the Church” is rooted in the fact that the Church has done so little to explain this peculiar situation itself. Priests were abusing children. Fact. Bishops refused to report them to the authorities. Fact. What the author wholly fails to do, is explain why the Roman Catholic Church thinks that the abuse of children should be dealt with only internally when this is a secular criminal offence. It may not be a criminal offence in The Vatican, but it is in Germany, Belgium, France, the UK, the USA and Ireland to name but a few. Until we see every single abusive priest voluntarily handed over to the secular authorities those of us with a less supine attitude will not believe the Church has put this chapter behind it. On the contrary we will continue to believe that the Church authorities, including the Pope have a case to answer.

  • Toots Porter

    It is quite obvious that the “profound ignorance by vocal critics about how canonical procedure works within the Church” is rooted in the fact that the Church has done so little to explain this peculiar situation itself. Priests were abusing children. Fact. Bishops refused to report them to the authorities. Fact. What the author wholly fails to do, is explain why the Roman Catholic Church thinks that the abuse of children should be dealt with only internally when this is a secular criminal offence. It may not be a criminal offence in The Vatican, but it is in Germany, Belgium, France, the UK, the USA and Ireland to name but a few. Until we see every single abusive priest voluntarily handed over to the secular authorities those of us with a less supine attitude will not believe the Church has put this chapter behind it. On the contrary we will continue to believe that the Church authorities, including the Pope have a case to answer.

  • JamesH

    “It was not at all uncommon for a bishop or one of his minions to ring up a Catholic prosecutor or chief of police and come to some private “deal” that involved the priest being sent for treatment and then re-located.”

    And how do you know that? Evidence, please? “Not at all uncommon” – in what proportion of cases?

    For decades, it was policy to send paedophiles for therapy – this was done on professional advice. Once they were cleared by the therapist, it was assumed (again, on the advice of professionals) that they were safe. That they were not, is as much evidence of a failure of professional knowledge, as a conspiracy.

  • JamesH

    The church has no power to prevent priests from being arrested. If there's a case to answer, i.e. credible accusations supported by evidence, an arrest warrant is issued and the criminal justice system takes over. What's the point of having “every single abusive priest voluntarily handed over to the secular authorities”, if the statute of limitations has expired or police investigations have not led to any charges being laid? In most countries there are victims' organisations that pursue cases, and help pay for representation, but the process is long and not impossible to abuse.

    (Incidentally, in most countries, the statute of limitations is 10 years. The present Pope, as head of CDF, waived the church's internal statute of limitations when he realised the extent of the problem in 2001; but Canon Law has no force outside the church.)

  • Helenwise

    You might consult the Fern Report. Or the Murphy report. Both of these documents, particularly the more recent Murphy Report, substantiate the claim that the Church colluded with local authorities to shield the molester from civil prosecution. Both of these reports can be downloaded as .pdf files. Google Fern Report or Murphy report.

  • Kennyinliverpool

    These priests were meant to have dedicated their lives to Christ – that's why it's so shocking. They were held in high esteem by the community as being 'men of God' yet they raped and molested children.
    I think the abuse scandal is going to finish off the Catholic Church in western Europe…? As the Church authorities have not been seen to have done enough to deal with the situation… the cover up is the most shocking thing of all. The priesthood will not recover its legitimacy in Europe for a long time…

  • Jim Clarke

    So there has never been any abuse of children at the hands of the ordained clergy?

  • Bwaj

    lies

  • Bwaj

    Wrong – the Irish reports were written by the anti-Christ secular government of Ireland. Secondly, you will find the figures reported by the British media are tosh – most of those cases of abuse in those reports were i) non-sexual and ii) involved the laity not the clergy. Why don't you start checking on politicians, teachers, councillors,social workers, youth workers,actors and those in show business around the world?

  • Bwaj

    Priests were abusing children were they? What about Protestant ministers (in far greater number) and teachers, politicians etc.,.

  • Bwaj

    The abuse issue will not finish off the Catholic Church in the western world – apart from the fact globally we are only talking about 1%-2% of clergy (too many by far anyway) – you consistently choose to forget that Christ has said Satan will never overcome His Church and only the Catholic Church is His Church.

  • Mephistophiles

    “I therefore assumed that although I may not agree with Mr Robertson’s conclusions he would at least, in accordance with the values of academia, construct his case on the foundation of a sound and sophisticated understanding of the Catholic Church and canon law.”

    Catholic Law does not trump Secular Law, and comments like this only serve to put Catholic “morality” in sharp relief.

  • Mephistophiles

    What a stunning retort. I can just imagine you crouched in the corner of a room with your hands over your ears shouting that over and over.

  • Mephistophiles

    Paedophilia is a criminal activity. Who the hell do Catholics think they are to consider themselves above this?

  • Mephistophiles

    I think there's around 38000 other Chrisitan denominations that would disagree with your assertion that the Catholic Church is his church.

  • Mephistophiles

    Shame on you that you choose to defend it.

  • http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/thedixieflatline/ Daz

    Speaking as one who was non-sexually abused myself, your glib assumption (in point 1) that the torture of a child can be dismissed as being not part of the problem is sickening, Bubba.

    You continue to play the “everybody else was doing it” card, as if it were some sort of holy mantra.

  • Bwaj
  • Bwaj

    Tripe
    I suggest you read this which shows the lies of the secular media
    Mass rape by paedophile Catholic priests is a myth, says secular humanist magazine
    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100053450/mass-rape-by-paedophile-catholic-priests-is-a-myth-says-secular-humanist-magazine/

  • Bwaj

    They are irrelevant. When did they begin? After the 1500s.

  • http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/thedixieflatline/ Daz

    Ah, so it's okay that clergy raped and beat children, covered up such acts, and moved the offenders on to other places where they were free to re-offend, as long as the number of cases was lower than some of the more hysterical claims made them out to be?

    What a refreshingly logical argument you make, Bubba.

  • Louise

    “Catholic Law does not trump Secular Law”

    nor does the writer say it does. Did you read the article?

  • Louise

    Bwaj is not defending it. Read.

  • KW

    Broad sweeping charges of ignorance and prejudice are empty. What was particularly notable about the lecture, and indeed this article, was/is the total absence of any reasonable counterarguments to Geoffrey Robertson's points or any proof whatever that any of the many facts he put forward were inaccurate.

    The reason is simple, the Church's conduct is quite inexcusable and truly amounts to abuse of human rights.

  • Bwaj

    Try reading the 1983 Code of Canon Law

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