Deposing the Pope

by Julian Ku

I still think there is no chance of this happening, but Christopher Hitchens offers this narrative of how and why he is pushing for legal action against the Vatican, or maybe at least a deposition of the Pope himself.

I telephoned a distinguished human-rights counsel in London, Geoffrey Robertson, and asked him if the law was powerless to intervene. Not at all, was his calm reply. If His Holiness tries to travel outside his own territory—as he proposes to travel to Britain in the fall—there is no more reason for him to feel safe than there was for the once magnificently uniformed General Pinochet, who had passed a Chilean law that he thought would guarantee his own immunity, but who was visited by British bobbies all the same. As I am writing this, plaintiffs are coming forward and strategies being readied (on both sides, since the Vatican itself scents the danger). In Kentucky, a suit is before the courts seeking the testimony of the pope himself. In Britain, it is being proposed that any one of the numberless possible plaintiffs might privately serve the pope with a writ if he shows his face. Also being considered are two international approaches, one to the European Court of Human Rights and another to the International Criminal Court. The ICC—which has already this year overruled immunity and indicted the gruesome president of Sudan—can be asked to rule on “crimes against humanity”; a legal definition that happens to include any consistent pattern of rape, or exploitation of children, that has been endorsed by any government.

Obviously, there is a lot of technical legal analysis Hitchens is missing here. Pinochet was  former head of state, for instance, sought under Spain’s universal jurisdiction law, not the U.K.’s own laws.  And how would the ECtHR get involved?

But the core of his argument is that the Vatican and the Pope do not deserve immunity.  I just don’t see how he can get around this problem since the UK and the US both recognize the immunity of the Vatican and UK and U.S. courts will almost certainly enforce this recognition.

3 Responses

  1. The ECtHR could only get involved if all domestic legal avenues were exhausted – a bit of a stretch to think that can be achieved before the Pope’s visit is over.

  2. This is a question for other contributors because I’m not sure of the answer.  Does the question of immunity also depend on which capacity the Pope was sued in?  For example, even if the Pope enjoys immunity for his actions during his reign as the Pope, does this immunity extend to his actions prior to becoming Pope if those actions furthered or covered up the commission of crimes by other individuals? 

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. […] In more news on the prosecute the Pope front (see Dapo’s earlier post), Christopher Hitchens, that glorious contrarian and one of the originators of the whole idea, has an article in Newsweek in which he elaborates on the legal strategy that, shall we say, the anti-Pope movement will adopt in advance of the Pope’s planned visit to the UK (h/t Julian Ku at Opinio Juris). […]