Christopher Hitchens is concerned that the majority Catholic and secularist-free Supreme Court may have a conflict of interests when it answers the question of whether the Vatican should have sovereign immunity protections to shield it from lawsuits over the sexual abuse carried out within American parishes. He also is suspicious of Elena Kagan for her role in defending such immunity claims on behalf of the Obama administration in her role as solicitor general. Hitchens explores what he sees as contradictions between both the Vatican’s claims in different contexts and between its actions in different contexts. It seems to want and to unhesitatingly exercise various powers while shirking all correlate responsibilities that accrue to them. Below is a portion of Hitchens’s case today in Slate:
Even if they do decide the matter in this way, they will not succeed in banishing the terrible question of Vatican responsibility for the destruction of so many childhoods and the protection of so many hardened criminals. To give just one example that has not so far had the attention it deserves, the State Department is required by Congress to make an annual report on the human rights record of every government with which we have relations. Yet there is no annual human rights report on the Vatican—or Vatican City or the Holy See, if you prefer. When questioned on this rather glaring lacuna, officials at Foggy Bottom say that for human rights purposes, the Vatican is not a state. It enjoys, for example, only the status of an observer at the United Nations. Very well then, if the Supreme Court rules that it is a sovereign government, then it necessarily follows that it must be subjected to official scrutiny on its rights practices, which in international law include the treatment of children. It will be interesting to see how the Obama administration gets itself off the horns of that dilemma. (It is also perhaps a pity that this question was not resolved earlier, so that we could have had an official U.S. government report on, say, the open complicity of the Catholic Church and the papacy in sheltering the men who organized the genocide in Rwanda.)
This all arises because the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a ruling that effectively lifted the Vatican’s immunity under a 1976 law (the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which governs the extent to which foreign entities can be pursued on American soil). The case involves an Oregon victim who was molested by a priest who had been moved, after previous offenses, from parishes in Ireland and Chicago. Other plaintiffs in other states such as Kentucky and Wisconsin have asked the courts to view offending priests and complicit bishops as employees of the Vatican, thereby illustrating the general responsibility of the papacy. The church’s response to this has been especially absurd, claiming that the pope exercises only spiritual authority and not managerial control. The first thing to say about this is notice how it abolishes the church’s other claim to be a political and accountable state! Then ask yourself what would happen to a priest or bishop who expressed doubts about the Vatican’s teaching on abortion or divorce. He would soon find that Rome was very interested in disciplining him. It was Joseph Ratzinger himself who invited Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson all the way from Argentina and back into the fold in an attempt to conciliate Catholicism’s more reactionary wing. It was Rome that gave shelter and succor to Cardinal Law after the long disgrace of his tenure in Boston. Suddenly we are asked to believe that the church is not really responsible for the actions of those who have a sworn duty of obedience to its headquarters? This will not wash. State or no state, the church is a highly disciplined multinational corporation that allows little or no autonomy to its branches and can no more be the judge in its own cause than British Petroleum.
The Church has gotten away for hundreds of years claiming that it believes God is both 1 and 3 and that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. I fear that now it will just as easily get away with claiming that it is both fully sovereign and not at all sovereign too. Its willful, convenient contradictions have never stopped its influence before. Fortunately, we are presently in an age during which they cannot get away with torturing or killing those with the temerity to point them out, but unfortunately we are still in an age when they get away with promulgating falsehoods and perpetuating their power through them.