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If one is a theocrat, one believes that the law is what one’s religious authorities say that it is, and one acts accordingly.

One of the leading monarchichal theocracies in the world, is not in the Arab world. A number of Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, are monarchies governed under Islamic law.  The Vatican is different of course. The monarchy is not inherited, but it is self-perpetuating, and it in no way may be construed as a democracy. In the course of the papacy of John Paul II, it exerted increasing levels of administrative and doctrinal control over the vast global church, and it’s branches every nation.    

As we all know, the leader of the doctrinal police was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, whose Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the agency that led the Inquisition, made it it’s business to silence dissidents, and command conformity among Catholic academics, politicians, and clergy.

One of the problems with this level of control is that the church, also functioning as a state, sometimes contradicts civil law in the nations in which it operates. Sometimes the conflict is with criminal law.

The Guardian newspaper reported this weekend that the new pope may have obstructed the efforts of law enforcement to investigate the growing sex abuse scandal in the United States — by ordering bishops to keep secret allegations that came to their attention.  

“Pope Benedict XVI faced claims last night,” according to the Guardian, “he had ‘obstructed justice’ after it emerged he issued an order ensuring the church’s investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret. The order was made in a confidential letter, obtained by The Observer, which was sent to every Catholic bishop in May 2001.”

“It asserted the church’s right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood. The letter was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger… Lawyers acting for abuse victims claim it was designed to prevent the allegations from becoming public knowledge or being investigated by the police. They accuse Ratzinger of committing a ‘clear obstruction of justice’.”

The letter, the newspaper continues, “orders that ‘preliminary investigations’ into any claims of abuse should be sent to Ratzinger’s office” and that all proceedings must be internal and conducted “only by priests.”

“‘Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret,’ Ratzinger’s letter concludes. Breaching the pontifical secret at any time while the 10-year jurisdiction order is operating carries penalties, including the threat of excommunication.”

“The Ratzinger letter was co-signed by Archbishop [now Cardinal] Tarcisio Bertone [of Genova, Italy] who gave an interview two years ago in which he hinted at the church’s opposition to allowing outside agencies to investigate abuse claims.”

“‘In my opinion, the demand that a bishop be obligated to contact the police in order to denounce a priest who has admitted the offence of paedophilia is unfounded,’ Bertone said.”

This is an extraordinary claim — that church leaders are exempt from American criminal law. Additionally, it is worth pointing out that the offense is not “paedophilia,” as Bertone euphemistically claims. This is an academic term. The criminal laws in the U.S. call it rape, or sexual assualt.

Bertone was at the time of the letter, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (He may be best known in the U.S. for his broadcast on Vatican radio calling on people not to read the best-selling novel The DaVinci Code.)

For foreign clerical leaders to order their U.S. followers to ignore and defy U.S. criminal laws in the face of evidence of specific crimes, may very well constitute criminal offenses in thier own right, beginning with, as lawyers for some of the abuse victims told The Guardian, “obstruction of justice.”

[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]

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