International Law, Religion, Sex Scandals

Have Popemobile, Will (Not) Travel

When Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement, conspiracy theorists opined that the mounting allegations of a Church-sponsored cover-up of sexual abuse had reached the highest levels of the Vatican. That charge didn’t make much sense to me. As Pope, Benedict XVI possessed the legal immunities. Outside the office, his status is in doubt.

So if he felt some fear of prosecution, he should have opted to stay in the office for life.

It’s pretty simple logic. That said, “logic” is the sort of thing that, historically, gets you burned at the stake by the Catholic Church, so maybe I shouldn’t try to apply that to the Pope’s decision.

But the question remains: Does the “Pope Emeritus” retain legal immunities in retirement? And if not, what litigation is he inviting with his retirement?

Well, the kind of litigation the Pope might face is obvious. Since he announced his retirement, the world was treated to some wild charges about a “gay conclave” inside the Vatican that orchestrated the cover-up of sexual abuse claims:

Members of the gay lobby included high-ranking Catholic clergy who organized sex romps at a Rome sauna, a suburban Rome villa and a beauty parlor, according to the report. The group was also known to meet at a university residence used by an Italian archbishop.

Quoting a high-placed Vatican source, La Repubblica revealed members of the gay faction were being subjected to “external influence” or blackmail, from laymen with whom they had relationships of a “worldly nature.”

Jeffrey Lena, a lawyer for the Vatican, believes that the Pope will retain his legal protections:

He maintains that Benedict would have the same legal immunity as other high-ranking officials, the Associated Press reports. The Vatican has legal treaties that govern relations with several countries that could provide additional legal protections.

Yikes. The allegations against this so-called “Velvet Mafia” sound like an outtake from Caligula. They also sound trumped up to play on age-old homosexual stereotypes, but who knows?

Back to the matter of the Pope’s exposure. It comes as no surprise that the Vatican’s lawyer in America thinks the Pope is safe. And he’s probably right as far as American lawsuits go. But the Pope doesn’t really hang out in America.

Duquesne law professor Nicholas Cafardi, a canon lawyer, has fears about action against the retired pope if he travels. In Europe, magistrates can arrest and detain officials before trial, creating a risk for Benedict, he tells AP.

“Americans don’t appreciate the vast powers that investigating magistrates have in Europe,” Cafardi told AP. “It only takes one who wants to make a name for him or herself to issue an arrest warrant for the former pope.”

The Europeans may have no qualms about snagging Benedict off the street once he travels outside the Vatican — including trips to Castel Gandolfo, the totally humble residence where he’s staying while a new Pope is chosen, a process that famously involves opening the Matrix of Leadership. In a related note, I’ll die happy if the next pontiff chooses the regnal name “Rodimus.”

This lends credence to the allegation that Benedict XVI secretly reached out to the Italian government seeking immunity. If he knew the Italians would shield him, he could safely live out his days with the freedom to take short jaunts in the Popemobile around the Vatican’s neighbor. Without immunity, Benedict XVI would be restricted to his planned retirement home in the Vatican Gardens.

The only other avenue for Benedict XVI to find himself in legal trouble is in the International Criminal Court. The Center for Constitutional Rights continues to press the ICC to take action. While media outlets seem to suggest that ICC action would be a game-changer, it wouldn’t really change the former Pope’s prospects. The Vatican is not a signatory of the ICC and therefore the ICC has no jurisdiction over the Vatican. If Benedict XVI traveled to a member-state, then he risks being picked up and turned over to the ICC. So, back to square one.

So the former Pope may be in the clear, but any way you cut it, there is only downside risk for Benedict XVI from retirement. Benedict XVI is on record that God’s been asleep the last few years. Either He was, or He’s just conveniently decided not to answer Benedict’s pleas for legal advice.

Or maybe Nietzsche was right.

Does Pope Retain Legal Immunity in Retirement? [ABA Journal]
Victims Raise Legal Questions About Retired Pope [Associated Press]
Jeffrey Lena, Lawyer For Pope, Talks About His Role [Huffington Post]
Inside Castel Gandolfo Pope Benedict’s Spectacular Temporary Retirement Home [NBC News]

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