Last week, NEWSWEEK published an essay by Christopher Hitchens calling for the pope to be subpoenaed or even detained for questioning in the Catholic Church’s child-abuse scandal. His argument—which he has made loudly and often in the past few weeks—has drawn no small amount of attention. Not content to rest on his rhetoric, he and scientist Richard Dawkins have approached lawyers about producing a case against the Holy See.
On Faith blogger Donna Freitas, who dubs herself “the stubborn Catholic,” commended Hitchens’s “audacity”:
There is something, too, about the way they are taking on the Vatican that feels as if it is not only on behalf of all the victims, but all of us ordinary, everyday Catholics, too. Catholicism has been dragged through the mud by the way its authority figures have been shown to harbor criminals for decades upon decades. Hitchens and Dawkins are using their bully pulpits to take on these bullies of another sort.
In The Huffington Post, Derek Beres has an article titled “Why Arresting the Pope Is a Great Idea,” in which he warns against the dangers of idolizing religious leaders. He writes:
Leave it to Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the totems of the British Atheist movement, to once again point out common sense, noting that the man's political sidestep is not recognized by the UN; thus Ratzinger should be tried for signing off on a priest's sexual abuse case two-and-a-half decades ago. If Roman Polanski can be arrested on sexual abuse charges after 32 years of hiding, so can the Pope, holy or not.
On NEWSWEEK’s Web site, the essay attracted more than 400 comments, a number that continues to increase as we write this. Wrote one commenter: “I don't care if he's atheist or not. Hitchens makes a compelling and eloquent argument here. All people should fight for basic children's rights. If atheists do, more to their credit. If Catholics don't, more to their unending disgrace."
Some commenters defended the church and accused Hitchens of anti-Catholicism:
I think the article would have a bit more credibility if not written by an avowed anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-religion, anti-God bigot like Hitchens. How anyoned [sic] could take him seriously is beyond me.
Others, however, rejected the accusation that Hitchens's argument was blinded by anti-theist rage:
That's not anti-Catholicism, that's just criminal justice. The Pope may be above the law when he's at home in the Vatican, but anywhere else in the world, he's just another man who happens to have helped a number of pedophiles continue to rape innocent children. I hope he's taken into custody the second his big toe touches the border.
Catholic.org, a prominent Catholic news Web site, condemned Hitchens, saying that arresting the pope would not solve any real issues:
While the Catholic Church is acknowledging abuses by a small number of priests—and even Bishops—in the past—and dealing with all of the implications of such horror—a "house arrest" of the Pope would serve no purpose. It would not help to bring abusive priests to justice or assist in helping the victims. It is clearly a publicity effort which Hitchens wants to keep pushing wherever he can find a venue.
The pope remains unarrested as of this date.