I sorta feel like a parent walking into my children’s fight an hour after it started at this point, but there’s apparently a row over whether the “Arrest the Pope” movement will hurt skepticism as a whole. The issue smacks heavily of the Framing Wars. Again. It’s creating a great rift. Again. And it’s annoying the piss outta me. AGAIN.
The rundown for those not in the know: Pope Benedictine XVI (AKA Ratzinger) is in hot water over some concrete proof that emerged very recently, showing that as a Cardinal, he delayed and interfered in the investigation of a pederast priest. This amongst dozens of other allegations. The case against him is actually quite strong, as outlined by human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robinson. The defense seems to be as follows: Bush granted him diplomatic immunity in the US; as head of a state he’s got diplomatic immunity everywhere anyway; and as Pope, he’s the infallible emissary of God on Earth so all this bad press is merely Satan’s way of trying to tear down the holy church.
Smelling blood in the water, evil godless heathen Richard Dawkins and fellow baby-eater Christopher Hitchens discussed the possibility of bringing charges against the Pope to either the International Criminal Court or the Crown Prosecution when he makes a visit to beatify some crufty, old, largely unimportant theist or other of the 19th century. Between them, they came to the conclusion that a human rights lawyer would be the best person to contact, and they ended up getting in touch with the same Geoffrey Robinson of the aforementioned Guardian article.
What merely amounts to a side-note now is the fact that a Rupert Murdoch paper incorrectly titled an article on the subject that went something along the lines of “Richard Dawkins will personally cuff the Pope; Hitchens will ‘Book ‘im Dan-o'”. This caused the initial uproar and much of the retardery about Dawkins being a bomb-tosser that one wouldn’t want to be associated with. Some wags envision it going thusly, a la Bad Boys, though I prefer this imagining:
Ultimately, the gambit as played by Dawkins was done so in hopes of raising awareness of the fact that the British government was treating the so-called “Holy See” as a head of state and the visit as a state visit, and therefore the UK would pick up the tab. Initiating a lawsuit like this one would force the government into either a) serving the warrant and seeing the Pope properly tried for his crimes, b) causing him to abandon his visit to the UK, or c) at the very very least, making the British government very uncomfortable about paying Ratzy’s way.
In case A, not only would justice be served should Ratzy find himself in the clink for abetting child molestation on a worldwide scale, the best case scenario, allowing for further justice to be pursued against individual priests involved in the abuses, but a final answer might also be decided as to whether or not Benito Mussolini’s 1929 Lateran Treaties granted the Vatican City statehood in a sense that other countries should honor. To this day, the Vatican is not recognized as a country by the United Nations, and they sit only as observers. By dint of this, the Pope couldn’t possibly be considered a head of state with diplomatic immunity, could he? Well, that’s the test, because that’s pretty much his only real defense.
Where his other major defense falls down, it falls down because it does intersect heavily with the skeptic community. The Bush pardon becomes a non-issue where the battlegrounds for this row is the United Kingdom, leaving only the claim of infallibility. And skeptics certainly don’t consider a claim of divine infallibility to be a valid defense against what amount to systemic human rights violations against untold numbers of children.
Or do they?
That, it turns out, is the crux of the current internet
navel-gazing war. Some folks in the skeptical community have taken it upon themselves to beat the drum and rally behind Dawkins, in at least one case as extracurricular activities outside the field of skepticism. Some others feel that allying too closely with filthy dirty atheists will tar them amongst the religious and cause these folks to shut down and refuse to hear anything further from the skeptical community as a whole.
People like PZ Myers are naturally more than happy to claim that skeptics who are sympathetic to religion are not taking their skepticism far enough, and that if they can’t step up and support a movement to beat down the pederast-enabling head of the most influential single religious faction on the planet, that they’re not true skeptics. Meanwhile, people like Phil Plait are suggesting skeptics handle the situation like it’s a minefield, acting only as necessary while wearing the mantle of “skeptic” to counteract any supernatural claims, while simultaneously saying every person on the planet should be rightly outraged about this on behalf of the victims no matter what their primary self-identifier. Rebecca Watson doubts there’s a “skeptical movement” that can be hurt by advocating the arrest, and otherwise agrees with Phil on the outrage.
This deep rift isn’t really so deep, in other words. Everyone’s talking about how important it is that the Pope be meted some measure of justice here on Earth (since, at least as far as the atheists are concerned, he ain’t going to get any justice meted out in any other life), but all anyone’s worried about is the collateral damage of being associated with a supposed bomb-tosser like Richard Dawkins. We’re getting fractious over being associated with someone who waves a specific banner other than skepticism proper.
Stephanie Zvan has it right, in my opinion. We are a diverse group unified under a number of banners and as such we should not be forced to give up one banner (e.g. skepticism) in order to fight under another (e.g. human rights advocacy, atheism, or whatever other banner you want to wave in this particular fight) just to avoid accidentally implying sympathy toward atheist advocacy in those that don’t swing that way. Frankly, I’m getting tired — VERY tired — of saying, over and over, that we need every kind of troop on the field. We don’t need to excoriate our archers just because they’re not pikemen, nor do we need to drive them off the field, weakening us all. Throwing elbows at the others in our boat is just going to get us dragged to the wrong side of the lake.
Just because we’re atheists doesn’t mean we’re wrong about the Pope deserving jail for his crimes, no matter how strongly you believe in your deit(y/ies) and no matter how you’ve rationalized your theistic skepticism or accomodationism. And just because Richard Dawkins started the ball rolling doesn’t mean it’s rolling in the wrong direction, or that it should be slowed just to spite him. If you believe the Pope’s crimes are heinous in systemically favoring the good of the Catholic Church over the good of the victims of the rampant sexual abuse, or in repeatedly slapping the wrists of the pederasts then putting them in positions of power over other children in other areas, then you should say so, regardless of what your other beliefs are, and whether they clash with the beliefs of those that are most vocally calling for justice to be served.
To answer Phil Plait’s hypothetical question — no, I probably wouldn’t rally behind Sylvia Brown if iron-clad evidence came forward that James Randi embezzled the million dollar prize. If she was the one making the claim, and the only one doing so, I’d be strongly suspicious of her motives and of the truth, if any, behind her claim. But if she pointed the appropriate lawyers to the evidence and the lawyers took it upon themselves to act on that evidence, I’d rally behind those lawyers if said evidence was indeed iron-clad.
I’m not rallying behind Dawkins, nor do I support this cause because I’m a skeptic or an atheist. I’m personally rallying behind Geoffrey Robinson and the solicitor Mark Stevens who are leading this charge, because they have built, in my estimation, an excellent case that the Pope has committed criminal human rights violations in providing cover for the systemic abuse that their corrupt organization has perpetrated over the last century plus. And while I personally don’t care if I offend or upset those Catholics who feel like cornered, wounded animals about their faith in their Pope, I’m not going to throw the accomodationists out of the fight just because they want to play nice with said wounded animals.
Now for Baby Jesus’ sake, can we put our eyes back on the prize here, and make sure that these evil men get what’s coming to them, for the evil acts we know them to have committed? We might not get another shot at this! I’m sick and tired of seeing bad people get away with doing bad things and somehow convincing half the world they’re the good guys while we sit around bitching at each other.
Oh, and the tl;dr: