The Case of the Pope (Geoffrey Robertson)

The Case of the PopeThe Case of the Pope by Geoffrey Robertson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is not a book. This is a legal brief. And advocacy cares not for objectivity nor impartiality; such nobility is for the judges. Advocacy is unabashedly biased, and justly so, if the adversarial system is touted as justice.

The first three quarters of the books are mostly facts; the legal technicalities only surface later on. But as all lawyers know, facts can be spun. And Robertson weaves the facts masterfully and fairly, dealing deftly with counter-facts and marshalling supporting facts to devastating effect.

Where he loses the stars is in his vitriol. The 245 paragraphs (yes, they are numbered, just as a memorial would be) are replete with quotable quotes, some dripping with scathing sarcasm, others brilliantly insightful in their juxtaposition, and all witty and incisive.

And like all outstanding written legal arguments, The Case of the Pope is religiously researched. The 4 appendices, the 13-page bibliography and the 14-page footnote list are testament to its scholarship.

In the end, an argument must be assessed by how well it persuades. The Case of the Pope argues 6 points:

  1. The sexual abuse cases are grave, widespread and an absolute scandal to the Church;
  2. Many of these perpetrators have not been deterred nor prevented from re-offending (of which the most effective way to do so is arguably to defrock them); they have merely been shifted around where opportunities to re-offend abound;
  3. The Pope, the Vatican and the Holy See (the “Church”) deals with these cases – through Canon Law – by enforcing secrecy and preventing trial;
  4. The Pope bears command responsibility for knowingly allowing the sexual abuse cases to perpetuate;
  5. The Vatican is not a State; the Holy See is not a government; the Pope does not have sovereign immunity.
  6. The Pope should be liable in international criminal law and civil law for negligence.

I am fully convinced of (1), half-convinced of (2) and (3), and unsure (but not skeptical) about (4), (5) and (6).

And given that I am a Catholic law student, he did a pretty damned good job.

I once had a conspiracy theory that Benedict XVI resigned to avail himself to prosecution. My half-joke eerily echoes Robertson: “Were he to resign, of course, he could be made a defendant…” (at [217]). I wonder if the lack of proceedings against him indicates anything.

But today, even as Vatican News flood their frontpage with Pope Francis’ brilliant PR, the secular (and much more well-read) news agencies slam the Vatican for refusing to “provide UN rights panel with information on internal investigations into sexual abuse of children by clergy”.

Why the lack of transparency? Why prioritise the Church’s ‘image’ over her people and her victims? Why is politics staining the beauty of our institution?

I feel for my Church =(


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About Mel

I dreamt I was a whale.