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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

There's matter in't indeed, if he be angry.

It appear that some Vatican hierarchs are angry about a joke within the British Foreign Office, where a junior-ish civil servant brainstormed about various unlikely activities for the pope when he visits the UK. They're so angry that some of them supposedly regret the plan for the forthcoming papal visit. Too bad that these regrets will come to nothing and that the British are going to go ahead and waste millions of dollars (and, no, Herr Ratzinger won't be arrested for alleged crimes committed outside of British jurisdiction).

Of course, British government officials have issued an apology - what else could they do, tell the pope to grow up and get a sense of humour? Well, that might have been an idea!

As a matter of fact, the Foreign Office suggestions make a lot more sense than the pope's typical activities on such visits. How many times does it need to be said? The pope is not some kind of moral leader. If anything, quite the opposite. He is the head of a very large, very wealthy, overly powerful religious cult whose "moral" teachings are based on morbid attitudes to the human mind and body. However much or little Ratzinger may be personally implicated in the cover up of child sex abuse cases within the Church - and I'm not following the detail all that closely - he deserves no particular respect in any event. Certainly not the ludicrous deference that he's accustomed to. He's not anyone's holy father, and the sooner his organisation collapses like a house of cards the better. That's not to deny that there are good, compassionate people in the Church, but they could find a healthier environment outside it.


Jonathan Meddings said...

I would've thought that jurisdiction is irrelevant for crimes against humanity?

Russell Blackford said...

Check out the Statute of Rome, Jonathan. The jurisdiction for crimes against humanity is very specific. See the definition, particularly the idea that there must be "an attack on a civilian population" and then see especially Article 22.

No, this is not a case of crimes against humanity as defined. It's not what we ordinarily think of as an "attack" by any country or de fact authority (such as a revolutionary government or rebel force) on a civilian population". It's "only" a whole lot of nasty crimes involving individual criminals and victims from many different populations ... together, with lots of covering up, but a cover up is not the same as an attack.

Geoffrey Robertson has really been stretching things to try to make the church's conduct fit into the Rome statute, and Article 22 makes it clear that the statute is not to be stretched. It specifically provides that it's to be read narrowly and not to be expanded by analogy. I'm very sceptical about Robertson's views; if fact, I think you could bet your life that the ICC judges would throw the case against the pope out if it ever ended up before them.

That may not be great news from one point of view (though I think there are good reasons for the statute to be drafted so narrowly), but it's my best free legal hunch-cum-analysis.

Russell Blackford said...

Aaargh, "de facto".

Russell Blackford said...

@ NEB: in a colloquial sense, maybe. But we don't see the Vatican's troops taking control of territory with tanks and rifles, then terrorising the inhabitants with a campaign of murders, beatings, rapes, and forced sterilisations. Merely giving very bad advice to a population - even if it turns out to lead to lots of deaths when people take it - is not a crime against humanity under the definition used by the ICC. Selling alcohol may also lead to lots of people dead (though not as many as would be caused by prohibiting it in a country where it has cultural acceptance), but that doesn't mean the actions of an international beer company meet the ICC's definition of crimes against humanity. We need to be clear about the elements of the ICC statute.

This is an area where I obviously disagree with Christopher Hitchens, who is going around talking very loosely about "crimes against humanity" and the ICC's jurisdiction. Hitchens sometimes does this sort of thing - compare his attempts to justify the invasion of Iraq in terms of just war theory, which merely exposed his sketchy understanding of just war theory.

The cure for the Catholic Church isn't the ICC. It's good, compassionate Catholics mustering enough clarity and courage get up and leave - preferably in large numbers.

NewEnglandBob said...

But selling alcohol which can lead to deaths is far different that proselytizing against the use of condoms with constant threats of living in hell for eternity. Scaring ignorant people to do one's bidding by praying on their fears is a huge crime against humanity in my mind.

How is it different than revolutionary forces holding families hostages to force their teenage sons to go out and murder for them.

If this is not the definition of crimes against humanity, then the definition needs to be changed.

Russell Blackford said...

It's totally different. If you mean it's just as bad, morally, well maybe. But it's not the same, identical thing. You can't take a crime, defined in statute, of doing X .. then charge someone under the statute for doing Y, on the basis that Y is just as bad as X. That's just not how the law works (and nor should it).

James Sweet said...

Regarding Hitchens' imprecise language, meh. I don't look to Hitchens for deep insight about anything, I just look at him to be damn entertaining. Also, he is the guy on our side who acquits himself the best in the format of television journalism, where specificity and accuracy are a liability at best. Compare Hitchens' TV appearances with Dawkins vs. O'Reilly. Dawkins was trying to be fair and accurate, and O'Reilly bulldozed him. Hitchens doesn't generally get bulldozed, because he doesn't let "being wrong" put him on the defensive. He stays on the attack regardless of how right or wrong he is. heh...

And regarding this comment:

The cure for the Catholic Church isn't the ICC. It's good, compassionate Catholics mustering enough clarity and courage get up and leave - preferably in large numbers.

Eh, good luck with that. As I pointed out on my blog a few days ago, even if, say, eleven million Catholics fled the church in a rage, that would still leave 99% of their membership intact. Catholicism has too much of a strangehold in Central and South America, and they are making rapid inroads into Africa.

The most wildly optimistic outcome I dare to hope for is a diminishing of Catholic influence in Europe and North America. Even that seems unlikely, but it's at least possible. Real pressure on the Vatican to change their tune? Please. You would need hundreds of millions of Catholics to threaten to leave the church before that would have any leverage.