The Pope should not be immune, says new book by Geoffrey Robertson QC
Every person is entitled to claim the right to religion, and to manifest it in community with others by “teaching, practice, worship and observance”. The corollary of this right – expressed in these words in the Universal Declaration and every convention on human rights – is that churches must be free to propound the tenets of their respective faiths but always (and this is a condition explicitly imposed by all such conventions) subject to laws necessary in a democracy to protect public interests and the rights and freedoms of others.
Church leaders and personnel are not only subject, like everyone else, to the laws of the nation where they live, for breaches of which they can be prosecuted or sued for damages, but to international criminal law – a law under which some political and military leaders and several priests and nuns have been convicted and severely sentenced for crimes against humanity. The psychological influence over their followers that is entrusted to any priest is both potent and capable of abuse (dramatically illustrated in the video of Orthodox priests blessing Serb soldiers before they executed their innocent victims at Srebrenica).
So spiritual office can provide no immunity: “benefit of clergy” has long been abolished in Britain, where the first principle of the rule of law is that formulated by Dr Thomas Fuller in 1733: “Be you ever so high, the law is above you”. As Lord Bingham explained it earlier this year, “If you maltreat a penguin in the London zoo, you do not escape prosecution because you are the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
How, then, can one religious leader be above all laws, whether national or international and whether civil or criminal?
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]The Pope should not be immune, says new book by Geoffrey Robertson QC,