Atheists plan to have pope arrested for 'cover-up'

14 April 2010 - 02:40 By unknown

Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, an atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict for his alleged cover-up of sexual abuses in the Roman Catholic Church.

The pair believe they can exploit the legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

The Vatican said the pope will not bow to "media pressure" to meet victims of paedophile priests. But such meetings this weekend in Malta were not ruled out.

Previous meetings with abuse victims have "always taken place in an atmosphere of contemplation and discretion" and the pontiff does not want to hold any "under media pressure, with little opportunity to listen," Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, said.

"The pope has already said that he was prepared to meet [abuse victims] as he has done in the past [in the US and Australia in 2008]," Lombardi said.

Eleven Maltese victims of predator priests on Monday asked for a meeting with the pope, who will visit the tiny Mediterranean island on Saturday and Sunday.

The Roman Catholic Church has battled a wave of paedophile priest scandals in the US and Europe since November.

Benedict will be in Britain between September 16 and 19, visiting London, Glasgow and Coventry, where he will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th-century theologian.

Dawkins and Hitchens believe that the pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, though his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations.

Their lawyers believe that they can ask the UK's Crown Prosecution Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the pope, or launch their own civil action against him, or appeal to the International Criminal Court.

Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, said: "This is a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence."

Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great , said: ''This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalised concealment of child rape is a crime under any law."

Last year, pro-Palestinian activists persuaded a British judge to issue an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni, an Israeli politician, for offences allegedly committed during the 2008-2009 conflict in Gaza. The warrant was withdrawn when Livni cancelled her trip to the UK. - © The Sunday Times, London, and AFP