This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Sex abuse victim suing pope

Sex abuse victim suing pope - Comments

hairybreeks's Avatar Comment 1 by hairybreeks

Now we will see if the Vatican is prepared to use 'diplomatic immunity'.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 08:36:39 UTC | #524136

Wadden960's Avatar Comment 2 by Wadden960

This seems like the best hope of actually successfully prosecuting the pope, I hope that the lawyers who were involved with the case in the UK consider taking this on.

Win or lose if seems like a good way to raise awareness of the issue, when it was Richard or Hitch talking about the issue they would just attack them personally and their beliefs and avoid the real issue, in this case I really can't see anyone attacking a victim of child rape...

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 08:53:21 UTC | #524147

Wadden960's Avatar Comment 3 by Wadden960

Comment Removed by Author

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 09:00:22 UTC | #524151

keithapm's Avatar Comment 4 by keithapm

I'm currently reading The Case of the Pope. I knew the church was bad, I just never realised how bad. From broken and blocked treaties for human rights to, of course, the mass cover-up of child rape, which seems almost as endemic as the incedince of rape itself. Misogeny, homophobia, AIDs, abuse... The list just goes on and on.

I hope this case is successful. The world needs to be woken up to the corrupt, backward and anti-human institution that is the Catholic Church. Get this book put out there!

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 09:16:17 UTC | #524154

Hammert1me's Avatar Comment 5 by Hammert1me

This needs to be said. Bravo to Terry Kohut, I hope he finds success.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 09:16:20 UTC | #524155

opposablethumbs's Avatar Comment 6 by opposablethumbs

Chapeau to Terry Kohut.

To have knowingly covered up and in fact perpetuated such a crime, against such vulnerable children, in order to protect the reputation of the church is literally unspeakably evil - certainly beyond any words I can muster. And we are all supposed to respect these monsters? It beggars belief.

Kohut has done everything humanly possible to demand justice for himself and others and speak out against this evil. Like any normal human being, I fervently hope he succeeds.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 09:22:50 UTC | #524157

elenaripoll's Avatar Comment 7 by elenaripoll

Can't see how anyone can still say other Religion's are worse than The Catholic Church, acts of violence are no worse than acts of emotional or sexual abuse.

They going down...and all other Church goers should be afraid, be very afraid....

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 09:36:52 UTC | #524166

sandman67's Avatar Comment 8 by sandman67

heres a know that whacky RICO Act you have in the USA? Does it apply here?

Who is responsible?

Murphy...well hes taking a dirtnap

The Rat In The Hat? Yes.

The Archbishops and Bishops who, even when presented with a file of evidence that they considered too awful to let go, were persuaded otherwise by Ratman and FAILED TO REPORT THE MATTER TO THE SECULAR AUTHORITES?

I say yes.

Chasing down Ratman is one thing, but in that chase lets not forget the key roles played by every sodding dog collared scumbag all the way down the line. All are equally guilty, and all should face justice.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 09:40:41 UTC | #524168

cheesedoff17's Avatar Comment 9 by cheesedoff17

Thank you CNN for presenting the truth about what Ratzinger knew and did. This is what the BBC should have done but no, as with all the other media programs I have seen/heard on this subject, they end by giving the program over to the Catholic apologists.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 09:57:18 UTC | #524177

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 10 by Stevehill

Much as I sympathise with Mr Kohut, I don't see how he can sue a serving head of state for his personal role in the abuse (which is in any event "only" a failure to hold a trial long after the abuse ceased).

The diplomatic immunity will hold up. The US government will do nothing to assist with breaking it down, even if the Vatican should not be considered to be a real state, for exactly the same reasons that they smile benignly at anything and everything Israel does: they fear the power of the religious lobbies.

However, the inevitable failure to get a positive result will itself be cathartic: more people all around the world will see that these people place themselves above the law and don't give a damn about the victims. So either way the Vatican loses.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 10:01:59 UTC | #524179

Paula Kirby's Avatar Comment 11 by Paula Kirby

Stevehill: Much as I sympathise with Mr Kohut, I don't see how he can sue a serving head of state for his personal role in the abuse (which is in any event "only" a failure to hold a trial long after the abuse ceased).

It's complicated. As I read The Case of the Pope I sometimes felt it was hopeless and that most national govts were so in thrall to the Vatican that there was simply no chance at all of the victims ever receiving true justice, but sometimes there were glimmers of hope too. The following, for instance, which forms para 206 of Robertson's book, isn't an exact parallel to the Kohut case and seems only to have been made possible by a quirk of Oregon law, but it is encouraging as an indicator of the line the Supreme Court may take in other cases.

The only case that was has as yet reached the US Supreme Court - where in 2010 the Vatican suffered a serious setback - is Doe v Holy See. The plaintiff had been molested at the age of 15 by a priest at a monastery in Portland. Ten years previously the same priest had admitted to sexually abusing a child at a church in Ireland, so he had been furtively “trafficked” to work as a counselor at a boys high school in Chicago, where (as he later admitted), “temptation to molest was maximized”. After three victims complained, he was sent to Portland where the plaintiff became his next victim.

The case against the Holy See was based on its controlling power over the Catholic church, its process of appointment and removal of bishops and through them its responsibility for disciplining priests. In this case, despite knowing of the priests dangerous propensities to abuse children, it negligently placed him, time and again, in a position to do so, and negligently failed to warn those coming into contact with him, including the plaintiff and his family, and negligently failed to supervise him.

The court rejected the Holy See’s technical defence that its conduct did not occur in the United States, on the basis that it was sufficient that the injury and some of the conduct alleged to be negligent took place there, even if other aspects of the negligent conduct took place in Rome. The state of Oregon, where the action was brought, had an extended law of employer liability which covered crimes committed by an employee as a result of being given the opportunity to commit them by his employment, and the Holy See was potentially liable on the basis that “an employer who has knowledge of an employees predilection to sexually abuse young boys unreasonably creates a foreseeable risk by allowing the employee uninhibited access to young boys”.

The Vatican, pursuant to its strategy of avoiding trial at all costs, took an appeal against this ruling all the way to the Supreme Court, where it had the support of the Obama administration in an amicus brief filed by Solicitor-General, Harold Koh, who made some inconsequential submissions about Oregon law and the FSIA which did not persuade the Court. He did confirm that the Holy See “is recognized as a foreign sovereign by the US” - an indication that like the Bush administration, the Obama White House will support the Pope’s claim to immunity. This case, however, proceeded under the FSIA exception to immunity, and the Supreme Court rejected the Vatican’s request to review the decision of the Court below.

In practical terms, this means that the Vatican tactic has misfired and it may have to go to trial, or at least make some evidential disclosure about CDF treatment of paedophile priests and perhaps even permit the Pope (although it is certain to proffer only a Cardinal) to answer questions on deposition.

So even if it proves to be impossible in this particular case, there may still be some hope ...

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 10:35:12 UTC | #524194

NickD's Avatar Comment 12 by NickD

Are there any countries that do not recognise the vatican as a state? Could a case be brought in one of those (if one exists)?

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 11:08:57 UTC | #524208

Paula Kirby's Avatar Comment 13 by Paula Kirby

Comment 12 by NickD

Yes, there are several, but most countries' laws only permit them to deal with crimes that were carried out in their territory or, in some cases, by their nationals in other territories. So the key question isn't so much whether a country recognises the statehood of the Vatican, but whether its law gives it jurisdiction to try non-nationals for crimes committed in other territories. There are several countries which have universal jurisdiction when it comes to crimes against humanity (and Geoffrey Robertson argues that a good legal case can be made for child-rape on the RCC scale being classified in this way), so this could well be an option.

The first thing the Vatican would do, of course, would be to plead diplomatic immunity, and a competent court would then be asked to rule on the statehood issue before the case could go any further. If the Holy See isn't a state, the pope isn't a head of state and doesn't have diplomatic immunity, and the case 'proper' could begin.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 11:33:46 UTC | #524217

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 14 by hungarianelephant

Comment 13 by Paula Kirby :

There are several countries which have universal jurisdiction when it comes to crimes against humanity (and Geoffrey Robertson argues that a good legal case can be made for child-rape on the RCC scale being classified in this way), so this could well be an option.

See, this is where I have difficulties.

I can see how the deliberate use of rape can be the subject of universal jurisdiction. If you think of systematic rape by the Janjaweed, or the Red Army towards the end of WW2, or by the Japanese at Nanking, that's clearly the sort of thing which universal jurisdiction was supposed to deal with - using rape as a weapon.

But by no stretch of the imagination is this what went on in the RC church. There were a significant number of criminal priests, who were not dealt with and indeed were protected from the civil authorities. I would be amazed to hear that anyone in the hierachy actually condoned the rape of children. Their actions were appallingly irresponsible, but I just don't see the sort of deliberate, orchestrated acts that give rise to universal jurisdiction. Obstruction of justice, yes, certainly - but that is not a UJ matter.

So even if you get over the hurdle of sovereign immunity, I am still not sure you get anywhere with Ratzinger personally, in a criminal prosecution anyway.

A civil suit, where the allegation is negligence, probably, on the evidence we have. But we shouldn't get the two confused.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 11:58:27 UTC | #524224

Paula Kirby's Avatar Comment 15 by Paula Kirby

Comment 14 by hungarianelephant

Yes, I can see why you have difficulties with it. Robertson devotes a whole, detailed chapter of his book to this single issue, so any quick overview of his argument is bound to be inadequate, especially from a non-lawyer like me. He also devotes another chapter to the question of civil suits. He doesn't try to suggest that there wouldn't be major hurdles with either route, he simply concludes that, either way, there is a good enough case to make it worth trying. As for me, I'm not qualified to assess whether he is right, only to try to convey something of his arguments.

Am I right in thinking you're a lawyer, Hungarian? If so, I'd be very interested to hear your take on the book once you've had chance to look at it.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 12:22:34 UTC | #524234

NickD's Avatar Comment 16 by NickD

This seems to be such a pervasive problem that it shouldn't be too hard to find a suitable local test case in a country that does not recognise the vatican as a state.

Does it really matter if only a civil suit were possible, as long as it were won? OK you might not get Ratzi in prison, but it would be a real result. Can you imagine the hadlines?

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 12:26:56 UTC | #524239

Raiko's Avatar Comment 17 by Raiko

What a brave man and I wish him the best of luck and support. It's a tough road to take for him, I am sure.

I wonder whether, if this turns out bad for Ratzinger, the pope will "miraculously go to heaven" before he can be convicted. I'd honestly not be surprised.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 12:29:21 UTC | #524240

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 18 by hungarianelephant

Comment 15 by Paula Kirby :

Well I should probably read the book rather than asking you to paraphrase it - it's just that you do it so well, y'know? It's on my list, honest.

I am a lawyer of sorts, public international law not my speciality. There are big difficulties with any novel type of case. That's a factor of the innate conservatism of legal systems. Which is not a criticism, by the way. The rule of law becomes very difficult to uphold if you keep changing your mind.

To stand any real chance of getting anywhere, you really have to show that it's not many steps from Here to There, and that there would be a manifest injustice done if you didn't take those steps. Most of us see the injustice - but you also have to remember that sovereign immunity rules are there for a good reason. As I understand Geoffrey Robertson's argument, it is essentially that the Vatican™ is not a proper state, rather than that there should be sweeping extensions to universal jurisidiction. Which of these arguments is "more correct" is not actually the main issue. The point is that the special case is the more winnable legal argument. It's a smart strategy.

As to the Here to There piece, I suspect there are just too many steps for it to be likely that the victims of rape by priests are actually going to see real justice, though the civil suits are much more likely to get some traction than the criminal prosecutions. That's not based on any deep insight into international law, just a general understanding of how judges think.

But I would agree (incl. with NickD) that it is still worthwhile, even if every case is lost. As other posters have pointed out, the Vatican has only three options: (1) settle; (2) take increasingly desperate procedural points to try to get the case thrown out; or (3) open up and fight the case at trial on the evidence. It is a horrible trilemma. (1) will be seen as basically an admission not only of guilt but the absence of a special position. (3) involves doing all the washing in public, with a real risk that they might lose, especially in the civil suit. They will go for (2), which is a public relations disaster: rape victims versus high handed technicalities. The more the public sees of this approach, the more the church will be seen not as a guardian of public morality, but as a corrupt, venal, uncaring, power-hungry haven for criminals. (We knew this, but even now not everyone does.)

And if we can get the money laundering cases into court the week after ...

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 12:49:53 UTC | #524251

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 19 by Cartomancer

I might have missed something important, but it seems to me that a crucial factor in the Pope's liability for his church's crimes, wherever they occurred, rests in the attitude of Italy towards the independent sovereignty of the Holy See.

There may well be countries that don't regard the Vatican as a sovereign state. Britain might, eventually, become one of them. But does that matter if Italy, where the Vatican is located, still does regard it as an independent sovereign territory?

We go to Italy (with which we do have extradition treaties) and demand that they send us the criminals in question. They come back with "sorry mate, that'd be the Vatican you want, not our jurisdiction". As long as they recognise it as a separate state, even if they wanted to, they couldn't legally extradite anyone from the Vatican. Where does that leave us? We think the criminals are just regular Italian citizens. But Italy doesn't.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 12:55:53 UTC | #524254

LWS's Avatar Comment 20 by LWS

I have set the PVR to record this on CNN, September 25 @ 10:00 p.m. BBC iPlayer wouldn't let us watch it live while in England even though there we a local wifi connection on the laptop. That seemed odd.

The momentum to make changes and reduce the influence of religion is a high speed train that won't be stopped now.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 13:26:15 UTC | #524264

opposablethumbs's Avatar Comment 21 by opposablethumbs

Comment 19

Aren't some of them not Italian citizens, though but e.g. German ones - which makes them foreigners resident in Italy (even though Italy says they're not on Italian soil because they're in the Vatican)?

Not that it solves the problem, though, I suppose; you still have to get the prosecuting country and the accused's country of nationality to agree the Vatican "state" is a fiction.

What would be the situation if country X wants to prosecute a citizen of country Y currently residing in Z?

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 13:35:10 UTC | #524271

Paula Kirby's Avatar Comment 22 by Paula Kirby

Comment 18 by hungarianelephant That all sounds eminently sensible to me.

Comment 19 by Cartomancer Well yes, so long as the pope stays in the Vatican, he's safe. But he doesn't always!

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 13:40:23 UTC | #524272

mucca's Avatar Comment 23 by mucca

Toss that bastard and all of the other perverts in jail forever.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 13:41:19 UTC | #524273

Seddge's Avatar Comment 24 by Seddge

Mucca cries out for justice and demonstrates a major hurdle in stopping the Catholic sex abuse ring. Which bastard should be tossed in jail forever and what is a bastard? Which other perverts should be jailed forever and what is a pervert? If bastard and pervert are not identified and defined by statute, and they are people, they will be out of jail in two shakes of a lambs tail.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 14:26:18 UTC | #524285

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 25 by Carl Sai Baba

Even if the Vatican IS a "sovereign(?) state", that leaves two options:

  1. Declare war with them, or
  2. at least deny them travel over/through Italy.

Sovereignty over exactly what, anyway? Their official policy is that citizenship is only for church employees (and families):

The Vatican is not a body which acts on behalf of a legal population (or even against a legal population). The Vatican is a government which governs itself and only itself. In the rational world, a body which exists only to regulate its own employees is a private corporation, not a "state".

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 14:28:42 UTC | #524286

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 26 by hungarianelephant

Comment 19 by Cartomancer :

Where does that leave us? We think the criminals are just regular Italian citizens. But Italy doesn't.

In 1982, Laker Airways sued British Airways in the US courts for violations of US antitrust (competition) law. To the casual observer, this seemed an utterly pointless exercise. Laker was a British company. BA was a British company. A US judgment couldn't be enforced against BA in Britain because there is no mutual recognition of punitive damages.

Except that Laker's lawyers already knew this. They never intended to enforce it in Britain. They intended to enforce it in the US - against every BA 747 which so much as touched the tarmac at JFK.

BA and various other airlines settled it for US$50 million. BA also paid Freddie Laker personally $8m.

Laker went bust anyway, though.

(Paula's post makes the point more succinctly, but I like the story. Incidentally, legend has it that a former boss of mine used the same principles to impound a TAM aircraft about to leave Heathrow for Sao Paolo, thus jamming the entire western European air traffic system for an hour. The dispute was about a lost suitcase.)

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 14:31:48 UTC | #524288

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 27 by Cartomancer

Paula, comment #22 -

Well yes, so long as the pope stays in the Vatican, he's safe. But he doesn't always!

I feared as much. Quite apart from the fact it's horribly undignified waiting to pounce on the old bigot when he goes on holiday, I'm fairly sure he just won't consider traveling to countries that are likely to arrest him. While it would spare a fair number of places another nauseating and expensive state visit, the interests of justice wouldn't exactly be served. It doesn't seem to have cramped Roman Polanski's style much after all.

Of course, if diplomatic pressure could be put on Italy to stop recognising the Vatican, its entire claim to validity would be comprehensively swept out from under it. Without the consent of Italy, the Vatican has no claim at all. Sadly, with Berlusconi holding the highest office in the land (he calls himself a president, but "media overtyrant" is perhaps more accurate), I doubt that's really going to happen.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 14:41:14 UTC | #524291

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 28 by Stevehill


European arrest warrants are however interesting. If any EU country issues an arrest warrant, all member states are obliged to enforce it. That would mean leaving the Vatican e.g. for a medical appointment in Rome would be enough to trigger an arrest.

Such warrants have been used e.g. by Britain (reluctantly) to arrest a German citizen, Frederick Toben, whilst changing planes in Heathrow because he was allegedly guilty of holocaust denial - and offence in e.g. Germany and Austria but not in Britain or most of the EU.

It only takes one member state to issue a warrant on the grounds that there is a case to answer.

Well, I can dream can't I?

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 14:56:46 UTC | #524300

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 29 by mordacious1

It appears that suing the RCC is not a walk in the park for the lawyers, church sex scandal takes toll on victims' lawyers. Not that anyone thought it would be.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 15:06:27 UTC | #524303

Bernard Hurley's Avatar Comment 30 by Bernard Hurley

Comment 29 by mordacious1

church sex scandal takes toll on victims' lawyers.

This could be a "News" item. Have you submitted the link to

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 17:08:55 UTC | #524386