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A C Grayling: Why no Asbo for the Pope?

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Joseph Ratzinger and the head of Goldman Sachs head powerful organisations that are above the law.

Why is it that large, rich, influential organisations and those who run them get away with big crimes and misdemeanours, when ordinary folk are punished for their miniature versions of them? It's an old story, of course, but no more pleasant or right for being so.

Compare the circumstances of two men whose occupations and avocations have brought them to pubic notice recently. One is Harry Taylor, an unemployed 59-year-old, who was found guilty last week in a Liverpool court of putting "offensive religious images" in the prayer room of the city's John Lennon airport (which he did on the grounds that having such a room in an airport named after John Lennon would, he said, have offended John Lennon). The jury of 10 women and two men had all sworn to consider his case fairly – on the Bible.

Mr Taylor received a five-year Asbo forbidding him from carrying religiously offensive images in public, and sentencing him to six months' imprisonment suspended for two years, but with 100 hours of unpaid work and £250 costs to make him feel the sting of the judge's disapproval.

The other man is Joseph Ratzinger, otherwise Pope Benedict XVI, right, current head of the Roman Catholic church. To appreciate the contrast between the Pope and Mr Taylor, we need to remind ourselves of the following simple facts. Child sex abuse is a serious crime. Concealing crimes is a serious crime. Systematic, decades-long deliberate concealment of many thousands of crimes in many countries is a very large-scale criminal conspiracy. It is a matter of public record that the Catholic church is guilty of just such a conspiracy. The Pope, as head of the church, is accountable for the its actions. It is also on public record that he personally protected abusers and covered up cases of child abuse before becoming Pope.

Is the Pope in any danger of receiving 100 hours of community service for hiding hundreds of paedophiles from the law all round the world? Is he likely to get an Asbo? Or has he been invited to the United Kingdom as an official visitor who will meet the Queen and be feted and courted, secure in the knowledge that efforts to arrest him and put him on trial for heading a huge criminal conspiracy will fail?
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