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There are several views on whether skeptics should get involved or not over the latest revelations regarding the Pope’s seeming complicity or knowledge of the Church’s retention of priests who had molested children in the past. Hitchens and Dawkins are for investigating whether the Pope should be arrested, Phil Plait says Skeptics should tread lightly and persuade through reason rather than attack, and fellow Kansan Josh Rosenau agrees.
Below you can see Dawkins defending his call, and I’ll chime in afterward about why I disagree with all of them to minor extents.
As the reporter demonstrates this is an emotional issue for many people, and Phil is correct when he says we need to tread lightly as skeptics. On the other hand his argument goes astray with me because skeptics should always speak up and ask “why” when Supernatural claims of sovereignty are used as shields from the laws the rest of us must live within. Calling for an investigation does make sense however Hitchens and Dawkins calling for it strikes an odd note.
As a skeptic when you see special legal handling or indications of special legal handling for religious institutions and persons you should always point that out, and if warranted, call for an investigation.
The Pope, as head of the Catholic Church, enjoys a certain amount of immunity to normal laws — let’s face it: if this were the head of the army, or the head of GM, or anyone else in any other position you would see the masses with their torches and pitchforks storming the castle by now, and you would see prosecutors in many jurisdictions clamoring to get the culprit first. You would not see it drag out over decades, nor would people put up with a double spin cycle of repeating events. I gave the last pass I was going to give during the last round of scandals regarding this — it’s not going to happen again.
The hint of Papal immunity is what rubs most skeptics the wrong way in this case. It’s a smack in the face to America, and the principles we were founded upon when it is truly exercised. It denies reason, the reformation, the renaissance, and the end to tyranny through religious justification that our country truly represents.
Underneath every monarch, king, or historical tyrant lies some justification through religious woo as to why that person’s family is noble and none others are, and why they therefor deserve to rule. Whether it’s the Dalai Lama, The Pope, or some imagined Caliph to be, they are all justified by religious supernatural claim, and that is where they must be challenged. So I will not be meek, I say the pope should be investigated.
I say that it appears that the Pope is receiving prosecutorial inaction here here others might instead receive action due to his claim of supernatural sovereignty and the diplomatic treatment he receives. In reality he is no different than you or I, and is not above our laws.
Unlike Hitchens and Dawkins however I don’t think it’s the UK or international courts where this belongs, or if it even belongs in court yet. The Pope’s actions and inaction do need investigation, not in the UK but rather with the State of California and in particular the City of Oakland investigators*. It is there were the string of correspondence regarding this originated, and it is there where the child molesting Priest was part of the Diocese. So City of Oakland and State of California is where the matter belongs because they have the factual standing and it does not belong in the UK.
Since it’s not clear that the Pope is obstructing justice from just the one letter it does seem to me that either California or City of Oakland ought to investigate further, subpoena all of the correspondence, and relook at the cases during the appropriate timeframe to discover if there was obstruction or failure to report issues.
Note to the Vatican travel office: it’s probably best not to route the Pope through OAK anytime soon. So in a nutshell where I am at is here: Skeptics should be calling for further investigation by proper authorities, my respect for all of the skeptics above is immense, however I disagree with them a bit on this one.
Update: Ack! It appears I am in the PZ camp on this matter.
*Update II: It appears that Munich also has a bit more reason for the civil authorities to investigate or react to the Pope’s response than other areas as well.