Josh Kutchinsky: What is wrong with a Secular Europe?

Josh Kutchinsky is a trustee of the British Humanist Association and the Secretary of the Central London Humanists

What could be wrong with a secular Europe?
It would be a Europe where your right to your religion or belief is respected.

Here is what it says in the European Convention (formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms):

“Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes  freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with     others and in public or private, and to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching,  practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as     are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
(note: Sorry about the ‘his’  in the first paragraph but this document was drafted a long time ago in the year of my birth,  1950.)

Most European countries are signed up to the Convention. So, you may ask, what am I concerned about?
Well, actually at present 47 Countries have signed up and there are some non-European countries with observer status and one non-country. Guess the non-country? Yes. The Holy See !  see also this article.
Much of Russia is in Europe and it is not a signatory.
Belarus is not a signatory and neither is Kosova or Macedonia.
But point 2 of article 9 does provide something of a get-out-of-jail clause. Who is to decide on these matters?  The answer is, that as with any human institution (and I don’t know of any other!), these are political projects always and inevitably in a state of revision. There are political forces in many countries who would like to revise the Convention so as to allow certain sorts of bigotry and prejudice to rule. Others, like some in the UK, are even floating the idea of withdrawing from the convention altogether.

Don’t those who object to secular states have any point at all?
Of course some may do, but as far as I can see, this is invariably because they subvert the meaning of the word.  They may be misled by how authoritarian and non-democratic regimes have used the word. As far as I know there have been no brutal regimes which have been ‘secular’ in the sense of making no distinction between the  religion or belief of their citizens in their treatment of them.
Others demand the right to discriminate and the right to influence public policy by means of  privileged access to the seats of power. They argue that they are the purveyors and guardians of a universal morality, which is mystically truly objective  and grounded in the obscure nature of a supreme deity.
It is their manner to often be obtuse and mendacious. For example, they equate secular with material wealth, and with an anything goes mentality. They equate secular with atheist. They equate abortion (and contraception) with murder. They equate sex and relationship education with promiscuity and licentiousness. They equate secular with a  particular political system, usually of the so called ‘left’, socialism or communism. They equate secular with a philosophy capable of determining right from wrong, and so on.
Some claim that their religion has provided the  foundations of our societies and that they are therefore entitled to protect, for example, Holy Christendom  from contamination and expropriation. They, the true believers, are the hosts and the rest of us are  the guests. In countries where they think immigrants and those of other religions have been treated well, they see those who pursue a secular agenda as ungrateful and non-patriotic.

So what would a Secular Europe look like?
Countries can have their own political systems. It is difficult though to imagine how an authoritarian  dictatorship could provide the checks and balances required to  ensure true secularity i.e. the  equitable treatment by the state  of all people regardless of their religion or belief  and ensuring that no religion or belief organisation is given privileged access to the state or to power within it.  It takes little imagination to realise that there must be a single legal system with, within its jurisdiction, one law for all. The law must also be subject to some form of constitutional guarantee of the citizen’s rights – this can be achieved, in part,  by signing up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention. A free press and an an independent judiciary are also clearly necessary. The exact nature of these institutional arrangements are always under development. There is a sort of experiment going on. It is highly unlikely that, in the near future, there is any one system that will suit all. But as has already been said secularity does not dictate the system it just sets certain parameters which must be respected.

If you agree with me, then you need to make your voice heard. Join us in the Secular Europe Campaign  There is a focus on human rights because without respect for human rights there can be no Secular Europe in which the rights of all are respected.
On Saturday 14th September the Central London Humanists are organising this year’s March and Rally for a Secular Europe –  If you can’t make it then please try and spread the word and indicate your support
If you are a tweeter you could tweet the following – Join the Secular Europe March. Be seen be heard be Secular. 14th Sept 2013. Equal rights for all #SECM2013

Mention it on your facebook page and in other social media.

Here are some quick links
Event page on facbook:
Event page on Meetup:

Support a Secular Europe and a secular world – you know it makes sense!

Josh Kutchinsky | The lunchtime observers | 29 August 2013

Stephen Fry: An Open Letter to David Cameron and the IOC

Stephen Fry compares Russian Winter Olympics to Nazi-hosted 1936 Olympics in letter to David Cameron.

Dear Prime Minister, M Rogge, Lord Coe and Members of the International Olympic Committee,

I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, three years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations afflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.

Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment. It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma. Let us not forget that Olympic events used not only to be athletic, they used to include cultural competitions. Let us realise that in fact, sport is cultural. It does not exist in a bubble outside society or politics. The idea that sport and politics don’t connect is worse than disingenuous, worse than stupid. It is wickedly, wilfully wrong. Everyone knows politics interconnects with everything for “politics” is simply the Greek for “to do with the people”.

An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.

He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it. I know whereof I speak. I have visited Russia, stood up to the political deputy who introduced the first of these laws, in his city of St Petersburg. I looked into the face of the man and, on camera, tried to reason with him, counter him, make him understand what he was doing. All I saw reflected back at me was what Hannah Arendt called, so memorably, “the banality of evil.” A stupid man, but like so many tyrants, one with an instinct of how to exploit a disaffected people by finding scapegoats. Putin may not be quite as oafish and stupid as Deputy Milanov but his instincts are the same. He may claim that the “values” of Russia are not the “values” of the West, but this is absolutely in opposition to Peter the Great’s philosophy, and against the hopes of millions of Russians, those not in the grip of that toxic mix of shaven headed thuggery and bigoted religion, those who are agonised by the rolling back of democracy and the formation of a new autocracy in the motherland that has suffered so much (and whose music, literature and drama, incidentally I love so passionately).

I am gay. I am a Jew. My mother lost over a dozen of her family to Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian “correctively” raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself.

“All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” so wrote Edmund Burke. Are you, the men and women of the IOC going to be those “good” who allow evil to triumph?

The Summer Olympics of 2012 were one of the most glorious moments of my life and the life of my country. For there to be a Russian Winter Olympics would stain the movement forever and wipe away any of that glory. The Five Rings would finally be forever smeared, besmirched and ruined in the eyes of the civilised world.

I am begging you to resist the pressures of pragmatism, of money, of the oily cowardice of diplomats and to stand up resolutely and proudly for humanity the world over, as your movement is pledged to do. Wave your Olympic flag with pride as we gay men and women wave our Rainbow flag with pride. Be brave enough to live up to the oaths and protocols of your movement, which I remind you of verbatim below.

Rule 4 Cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace

Rule 6: Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement

Rule 15 Encourage and support initiatives blending sport with culture and education

I especially appeal to you, Prime Minister, a man for whom i have the utmost respect. As the leader of a party I have for almost all of my life opposed and instinctively disliked, you showed a determined, passionate and clearly honest commitment to LGBT rights and helped pushed gay marriage through both houses of our parliament in the teeth of vehement opposition from so many of your own side. For that I will always admire you, whatever other differences may lie between us. In the end I believe you know when a thing is wrong or right. Please act on that instinct now.

Yours in desperate hope for humanity

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry | August 7th, 2013

Protest this Saturday 10th of August in London on Richmond Terrace, opposite Downing Street, from 1pm to 4pm.
STOP the LGBT violations in Russia NOW !

EU: The European Parliament has adopted a resolution condemning Russian homophobic censorship law

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution condemning Russian MPs for passing a draconian homophobic censorship law, with Labour MEP Michael Cashman saying “hate speech” from President Putin and others has resulted in the “barbaric killing of gay men”.

Several violent homophobic killings have taken place in Russia since the start of 2013 – the most recent involving a 39-year-old man in a village on the Kamchatka.

On the 13th of June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the “anti-propaganda” law voted in Russia’s federal Duma earlier that week.

It fines anyone organising a gay pride event or giving information about LGBT issues to those under the age of 18.

Members of the European Parliament noted that “[Russian] federal authorities have done nothing to stop discriminatory legislation banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ from coming into effect in nine regions of Russia”.

The Parliament said it was “deeply concerned by the negative consequences of the adoption of a federal law on ‘homosexual propaganda’, which could increase discrimination and violence against LGBTI individuals”.

The Council of Europe also condemned Russia’s new laws, which unduly restrict free speech in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that these laws breached the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Russia.

Michael Cashman, the British Labour MEP and co-president of the LGBT Intergroup, said: “hate speech from Putin and others had resulted in the barbaric killing of gay men”.

“This is unacceptable and uncivilised. The EU must continue to systematically express its strongest opposition to laws that restrict freedom of expression”, the MEP added.

The Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek MEP, who is also co-president of the LGBT Intergroup, said: “Not a month passes without Russia becoming less and less of a democracy. In addition to the propaganda law, the ‘Foreign Agents’ law also places undue pressure on NGOs.”

“Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev are the most dangerous same-sex couple in Europe these days; the EU and the Council of Europe need to up the pressure against Russia after these terrible laws are passed.”

Pink News | Scott Roberts | 14 June 2013

UK: protest in London (opposite Downing Street) against the Russian anti-gay laws – 10th of August 2013


Protest Details:
Static protest and signing of register of protest

Date: August 10, 2013
Location: Richmond Terrace, Westminster SW1A 2JL
Time: 1.00pm to 4.00pm

The nearest tube station is Westminster but it is also close to Embankment.



STOP the LGBT violations in Russia NOW.

In 2012 The Russian government banned all gay pride events throughout the country for the next 100 years.

In 2013, The Russian government adopted a trifecta of anti LGBT bills basically criminalizing homosexuality. One bans the distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. This law imposes heavy fines for using the media or internet to promote “non-traditional relations.”

Secondly, the government made it illegal for the adoption of Russian children by gay couples or any single person who comes from a country that recognizes marriage equality.

Thirdly, a bill has just been passed giving authorities the rights to arrest foreign nationals whom they suspect being LGBT or pro gay and detain them for up to 14 days.

There is talk in the media of the next step being the removal of children from Russian homes, natural or adoptive, from parents who are, or are suspected of being LGBT.

We are witnessing imagery in the media showing unspeakable violence towards LGBT people. We see evidence that the new laws are being broadly interpreted by the Russian public and by the legal system to unfairly and violently persecute, intimidate and vilify LGBT people. This violence must stop, and the laws must be repealed.

We are organizing a peaceful static protest for our Russian LGBT family, with whom we show solidarity. We want our Russian brothers and sisters to be free from persecution and to have the freedom to love without fear.

We call on David Cameron, the UK Parliament and the G20 to urge the Russian government to repeal these laws and to provide the same level of human rights protection to all of its citizens regardless of their sexuality and gender.

Facebook Event Page:


Video: Band creates video protesting recent Russian anti-gay laws


A band has dedicated a new single from its debut album to supporting gay and lesbian people in Russia, and in opposition to recently passed anti-gay laws.

The track Moscow, by band Autoheart contains a strong message of opposition to the laws, which federally banned homosexual “propaganda”, and which have been widely regarded as a step backwards for LGBT rights in the country.

In the description for the video, the band says the lyrics are about the “daft optimism of being in love”, but then goes on to note the passage of the laws.

The video contains an image of two soldiers kissing in front of the Kremlin, as an act of defiance against the law. The band notes Section 28, similar legislation passed in the UK 1987 by the Tory Government under Margaret Thatcher.

The description reads; “We are lucky in Britain to have laws that mean whether we are gay, straight, bisexual or anything in between, our relationships are recognised and our rights protected by law. But in Russia there is an anti-gay crisis happening right now: their government does not want to afford their people those same rights and are trying to criminalise even the discussion of gay equality.

“Something similar happened in Britain not long ago: Section 28, brought in by Thatcher’s Tory party in the Eighties to stop teachers from talking about same-sex relationships in a positive way, was only repealed in 2003.

“These laws only serve to protect intolerance, ignorance, homophobia and hate crimes… In our video, two gay Russian soldiers kiss in front of the Kremlin — yet just last month same a group of same-sex couples in Moscow were violently attacked and then arrested for doing just this.”

There has been an international outcry recently, as several pieces of legislation have passed through the Russian Parliament, banning or inhibiting the rights of LGBT people.

The upper house of the Russian Parliament voted last month to approve both a bill banning adoption of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples and the nationwide anti-”propaganda” bill banning the promotion of “non-traditional” relationships to minors.

Earlier this month the Duma, or lower parliamentary house, unanimously voted 443-0 to approve the draft law on adoption, as well as related amendments to Russian family law.

The bill, which has since been signed by President Vladimir Putin, bans foreign same-sex couples and unmarried individuals in countries where same-sex marriage is legal from adopting Russian children.

Last month, actress Tilda Swinton was pictured flying a rainbow flag in Moscow, at the St Basil’s Cathedral, in a gesture of solidarity with the LGBT community. 

The song was taken from the band’s debut album Punch, which is available to buy from 15 July. The video was directed by Gavin Leisfield, and will be available from 8 July.

The band encourages supporters to sign an AllOut petition, which already contains over 200,000 signatures, and calls from President Putin and other world leaders to act against the anti-gay legislation.

Joseph Patrick McCormick | Pink News | July 2013

Vatican: It may be a new velvet glove, but it’s the same old iron fist

You’ve got to give the Vatican credit for having installed a Pope who appears to be nice and cuddly and says all the right things. But as with everything pertaining to the Vatican, one needs to keep a sceptical antenna waving. Nothing is as it seems in that kingdom of lies and deception.

The propaganda coup that they have pulled off by getting rid of the disastrous Ratzinger (retired through ill-health? Give me a break! It’s clear, to me at least, that he was disposed of) and replacing him with the apparently cuddlier, kindlier and more modest South American, is brilliant.

So far.

But for those who are prepared to look beyond the carefully constructed image, it is clear that Senor Bergoglio is, in fact, as hard and unyielding as his cold-hearted predecessor.

Bergoglio has just scored a big hit in Brazil where his inflated spectaculars rallied great crowds on Copacabana beach. On the plane back to Rome he answered questions from journalists who wanted to press him on the same “hot button” issues that so tormented Herr Ratzinger — and from which they gleaned so many column inches.

It was very revealing. Take away the apparently emollient words and Bergoglio says exactly the same as Ratzinger. He thinks homosexuals should be treated with respect (“Who am I to judge? You can’t marginalise these people,” he says patronisingly). But then he goes on to say that the Church still condemns homosexual relationships and always will. So, it’s business as usual and his implacable opposition to gay marriage remains unshakable.

On the question of the involvement of women — yes, they should play a “full part” in Church life, he says. Except that they will never, ever be permitted into the priesthood and they will never, ever have any real power or influence.

Put the kettle on, sister — and my apartment needs cleaning.

He says that God “forgives and forgets” sins if there is repentance (but he, quickly adds, God doesn’t forget crimes, such as the rape of children).

So the Vatican’s despicable history of persecution and corruption is all OK now because it repented and God has forgiven and forgotten. Handy, isn’t it? And I’m sure all those heretics it burned at the stake and those women it used as slaves in the Magdalene Laundries will take great comfort from the fact that the Vatican is truly sorry. So just shut up about it and let it drop, will you?

Bergoglio makes big noises about being the pope of the people, the pontiff of the poverty-stricken and the weak and disenfranchised. He makes very public gestures about living in modest accommodation and not wanting to wear fancy costumes all embroidered with jewels. What’s not to like?

Well, if he is as orthodox and dogmatic as this talk to journalists suggests, then his heart is as hard as any tyrant’s. He will do nothing about the ban on condoms in countries afflicted by AIDS, he will do nothing to force the hands of the religious orders who refuse to pay for their past cruelties in Ireland and leave it for the taxpayer to pick up the tab. And we have yet to see any move to address the issue of child rape and exploitation by priests. (He made it illegal in Vatican City, but how many children live there?).

The Vatican’s untold wealth remains untouched, while millions starve. He makes patronising gestures like washing the feet of prisoners. But his past shows that he is conservative to the core and will change nothing except, perhaps, the window dressing of the papacy.

Bergoglio is going to have to do more than smile and speak in a kindly voice to convince this cynic that he is one iota different to the two horrors who sat on the throne of St Peter immediately before him.

He is no reformer. If he had been, the powers-that-be in the Holy See wouldn’t have let him anywhere near the papacy.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society | 30th July 2013

UK: Hundreds of pro and anti gay marriage protest in London

Several hundreds of protestors crowded London’s Trafalgar Square rallying against and for marriage equality, this afternoon. Photo by Nicolas Chinardet

Several hundreds of pro and anti marriage equality protestors rallied to London’s Trafalgar Square, this afternoon.

The anti-equality protest started today (24 March) at 2pm and was organized by the French La Manif Pour Tous (March For All) campaign group.

Over twenty young children were forced to stand at the base of Nelson’s Column, shouting ‘Uphold Marriage’ as well as anti-gay slurs and holding banners in the freezing cold against gay marriage.

Organizers claimed as many as 2,000 people participated in their protest against gay marriage.

London co-ordinator Damien Fournier Montgieux, criticized the UK and French governments’ bid to legalize marriage equality: ‘Almost out of nowhere we are suddenly faced with a huge challenge to the future of marriage and the family in both France and the UK.

‘There has been no warning or consultation with the people.

‘It is children and the future generations that will suffer most as a result of these unjust changes.

‘This is now a pan-European challenge and it needs a pan-European response’.

One of the main speakers, Alan Craig, of the Anti-gay ‘Anglican Mainstream’ group declared that the UK and France are ‘united’ by a ‘willingness to stand up against sudden attacks on the vital institution of marriage’.

He slammed the UK prime minister, for supporting gay marriage, saying ‘David Cameron has bananas in his ears. He is not listening to us. The government are not listening to us’.

Despite organizes saying they were against homophobia, Craig alleged that ‘two men cannot be naturally intimate and consume one another by an activity’.

Other protestors shouted against adoption by ‘homosexuals who have an “interest” in children’.

Although fewer in numbers, the pro-equality protestors voiced their opposition with rainbow flags, shouting ‘shame on you!’ and ‘no bigots here!’.

‘The protest was supported by the Secular Europe Campaign, a coalition of over 80 European secularist associations. In particular members of the British Humanist Association, the Central London HumanistsNational Secular Society and the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, were there today standing for universal human rights and equal marriage’ told Marco Tranchino, one of the organizers, to Gay Star News.

Student Eliza Goroya showed her support for marriage equality and anti-bigotry by going bare-breasted FEMEN style.

She tweeted: ‘Just went FEMEN against the anti-equality bigots at Trafalgar Sq. Feels good to be on the right side of history’.

Student Eliza Goroya showed her support for marriage equality and anti-bigotry by going bare-breasted FEMEN style. Photo by Nicolas Chinardet.

Nicolas Chinardet, blogger and LGBT rights advocate French ex-pat who lives in London told Gay Star news: ‘Most of the anti-gay protestors were French white upper middle class.

‘I found it particularly strange that the Manif Pour Tous protestors were talking about children’s rights, yet they made toddlers stand out in the cold and forced them to say things they probably don’t event understand’.

Chinardet, who is also a GSN contributor, also said that ‘despite the organizers claiming they are a grass roots campaign group without funding, they certainly had banners, leaflets and t-shirts which appear to have been well financed’.

‘I also find it curious that the Manif Pour Tous say they represent the mainstream and are not a religious campaign group, yet it sported religious figures, including Craig, the Anglican priest, evangelical groups and even a monk’.

Today’s protest in London coincided with larger protest by the Manif Pour Tous in Paris.

The National Assembly of France has already voted for the gay marriage bill which was last week approved by law commission of the French Senate; the bill will be put to a vote in the Senate in just over a week’s time.

The final text of the legislation will now be voted on by the full Senate in 15 days time.

The ‘Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill’ for England and Wales had its first reading on 24 January and debated in the House of Commons on 5 February.

The bill was later approved on second reading in a 400–175 vote.

Gay Star News | Dan Littauer | 24th March 2013

Ratzinger will hide in the Vatican in order to avoid arrest

Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1979. In 1981, Ratzinger was appointed Vatican enforcer but turned a blind eye to sex offenders. Photograph: AP

(Reuters) – Pope Benedict’s decision to live in the Vatican after he resigns will provide him with security and privacy. It will also offer legal protection from any attempt to prosecute him in connection with sexual abuse cases around the world, Church sources and legal experts say.

“His continued presence in the Vatican is necessary, otherwise he might be defenseless. He wouldn’t have his immunity, his prerogatives, his security, if he is anywhere else,” said one Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is absolutely necessary” that he stays in the Vatican, said the source, adding that Benedict should have a “dignified existence” in his remaining years.

Vatican sources said officials had three main considerations in deciding that Benedict should live in a convent in the Vatican after he resigns on February 28.

Vatican police, who already know the pope and his habits, will be able to guarantee his privacy and security and not have to entrust it to a foreign police force, which would be necessary if he moved to another country.

“I see a big problem if he would go anywhere else. I’m thinking in terms of his personal security, his safety. We don’t have a secret service that can devote huge resources (like they do) to ex-presidents,” the official said.

Another consideration was that if the pope did move permanently to another country, living in seclusion in a monastery in his native Germany, for example, the location might become a place of pilgrimage.


This could be complicated for the Church, particularly in the unlikely event that the next pope makes decisions that may displease conservatives, who could then go to Benedict’s place of residence to pay tribute to him.

“That would be very problematic,” another Vatican official said.

The final key consideration is the pope’s potential exposure to legal claims over the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals.

In 2010, for example, Benedict was named as a defendant in a law suit alleging that he failed to take action as a cardinal in 1995 when he was allegedly told about a priest who had abused boys at a U.S. school for the deaf decades earlier. The lawyers withdrew the case last year and the Vatican said it was a major victory that proved the pope could not be held liable for the actions of abusive priests.

Benedict is currently not named specifically in any other case. The Vatican does not expect any more but is not ruling out the possibility.

“(If he lived anywhere else) then we might have those crazies who are filing lawsuits, or some magistrate might arrest him like other (former) heads of state have been for alleged acts while he was head of state,” one source said.

Another official said: “While this was not the main consideration, it certainly is a corollary, a natural result.”

After he resigns, Benedict will no longer be the sovereign monarch of the State of Vatican City, which is surrounded by Rome, but will retain Vatican citizenship and residency.


That would continue to provide him immunity under the provisions of the Lateran Pacts while he is in the Vatican and even if he makes jaunts into Italy as a Vatican citizen.

The 1929 Lateran Pacts between Italy and the Holy See, which established Vatican City as a sovereign state, said Vatican City would be “invariably and in every event considered as neutral and inviolable territory”.

There have been repeated calls for Benedict’s arrest over sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

When Benedict went to Britain in 2010, British author and atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins asked authorities to arrest the pope to face questions over the Church’s child abuse scandal.

Dawkins and the late British-American journalist Christopher Hitchens commissioned lawyers to explore ways of taking legal action against the pope. Their efforts came to nothing because the pope was a head of state and so enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

In 2011, victims of sexual abuse by the clergy asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the pope and three Vatican officials over sexual abuse.

The New York-based rights group Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and another group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), filed a complaint with the ICC alleging that Vatican officials committed crimes against humanity because they tolerated and enabled sex crimes.

The ICC has not taken up the case but has never said why. It generally does not comment on why it does not take up cases.


The Vatican has consistently said that a pope cannot be held accountable for cases of abuse committed by others because priests are employees of individual dioceses around the world and not direct employees of the Vatican. It says the head of the church cannot be compared to the CEO of a company.

Victims groups have said Benedict, particularly in his previous job at the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department, turned a blind eye to the overall policies of local Churches, which moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them and handing them over to authorities.

The Vatican has denied this. The pope has apologized for abuse in the Church, has met with abuse victims on many of his trips, and ordered a major investigation into abuse in Ireland.

But groups representing some of the victims say the Pope will leave office with a stain on his legacy because he was in positions of power in the Vatican for more than three decades, first as a cardinal and then as pope, and should have done more.

The scandals began years before the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005 but the issue has overshadowed his papacy from the beginning, as more and more cases came to light in dioceses across the world.

As recently as last month, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, was stripped by his successor of all public and administrative duties after a thousands of pages of files detailing abuse in the 1980s were made public.

Mahony, who was archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 until 2011, has apologized for “mistakes” he made as archbishop, saying he had not been equipped to deal with the problem of sexual misconduct involving children. The pope was not named in that case.

In 2007, the Los Angeles archdiocese, which serves 4 million Catholics, reached a $660 million civil settlement with more than 500 victims of child molestation, the biggest agreement of its kind in the United States.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pope “gave the fight against sexual abuse a new impulse, ensuring that new rules were put in place to prevent future abuse and to listen to victims. That was a great merit of his papacy and for that we will be grateful”.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Robin Pomeroy; Edited by Simon Robinson and Giles Elgood)

Reuters | Philip Pullella | VATICAN CITY | Fri Feb 15, 2013

The pope can quit, but it doesn’t erase his complicity in his Church’s crimes

Geoffrey Robertson QC addressing the Protest the Pope Rally opposite Downing Street in London in September 2010.

Yesterday’s resignation by Pope Benedict was merely expedient – he has become too old to cope. It would have been both astonishing and courageous, a few years ago, had it been offered in atonement for the atrocity to which he had for 30 years turned a blind eye – the rape, buggery and molestation of tens of thousands of small boys in priestly care.
His “command responsibility” for this crime against humanity goes back to 1981, when he was appointed Prefect (i.e. Head) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican body that disciplines errant priests. Although the CDF files are a closely guarded secret, letters from Cardinal Ratzinger have emerged in several US court cases, always protective of rapist priests. As father Hans Kung, the eminent Theologian, put it in his open letter to Catholic Bishops in 2010, “There is no denying the fact that the world-wide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger”.

The worse case was that of Father Maciel, a bigamist, paedophile and drug-taker who raped his own children but had become a close friend of John Paul II. Ratzinger was in possession of all the evidence about Maciel but refused to act.  Even after he became Pope, Ratzinger refused to defrock this monster priest or provide his affidavit to police. Instead he merely ‘invited’ Maciel to retire and lead a quiet life in the US, away from media attention. Ratzinger undoubtedly loathes such men, but he was always the ostrich Pope, the academic who kept his head in the sand until the storm hit.

Pope Benedict’s Vatican has been an enemy of human rights. The fiction that this religious enclave is a “state” enables it to appear at UN conferences and to veto initiatives for family planning, contraception or any form of “gender equality”. Benedict himself has decried homosexuality as “evil”, and ruled that women have no right to choose, even to avoid pregnancies that result from rape or incest; IVF is wrong (because it begins with masturbation); condom use, even to avoid HIV Aids within marriage, must never be countenanced. There is no denying that his Vatican has been a force in international affairs, rallying the Catholic countries of Latin America to make common cause on moral issues with Islamist states like Libya and Iran.

As Head of a State – even such a make-believe state as the Vatican – Pope Benedict has absolute immunity from legal action. But this immunity is not the same after you retire. There are many victims of priests permitted by Cardinal Ratzinger to stay in holy orders after their propensity to molest was known, and they would like to sue the ex-pope for damages for negligence. If he steps outside the Vatican, a court may rule that they have a case.

Geoffrey Robertson QC is author of “The Case of The Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse.”

The Independent | Geoffrey Robertson QC | 12th February 2013

Vatican: reactionary Pope Ratzinger resigns

And so we are to see an end to the rule of Joseph Ratzinger at the Vatican. At such times it is usual to break out into a chorus of “Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz, but we fear that Ratzinger’s successor will be as bad, if not worse, than the man himself.

Ratzinger has ruled for decades at the Vatican, even before he became Pope. He was chief inquisitor under the rule of John Paul II, and as the old Pope’s health failed, Ratzinger ramped up the reactionary agenda. (Not that John Paul II was any slouch at authoritarianism and bigotry).

Under Ratzinger the Vatican has become despised and resented throughout the world. He has played a major role in reducing the Catholic Church’s popularity and its authority.

Catholics have deserted the Church at an increasing rate, repelled by the inhumanity of Ratzinger’s unbending adherence to what are perceived as cruel doctrines.

When he came to Britain in 2010, we were told that the visit had been a huge triumph. In fact, it was an abject failure as the official statistics showed and the Catholic Church’s own research confirmed. The visit did succeed, though, in generating the largest protest march ever seen against a papal visit. (video)

Of course, the endless child abuse scandals that have been exposed have been a major factor in Ratzinger’s failure as pope. As one revelation followed another, it was clear that for centuries the Church has been covering up the crimes of its clergy. It has put the safety of children well behind the interests of those of the Church.

Every single accusation of child abuse landed on Ratzinger’s desk when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In most cases they were kept secret. Only when the civil authorities became involved did the Vatican come clean about its activities – and even then it had to be forced.

For all its claims that it has now cleaned up its act, new cover-ups seem to be discovered almost every week. And we should not forget the horrible attempts to avoid paying compensation to people whose lives they have ruined and who the Church sometimes dismissed as liars and money-grubbers.

Under Ratzinger, too, the Catholic Church has become crazily politicised. He has instructed his bishops to go out into the world and aggressively push legislators to obey Vatican edicts. In this, too, he has failed dismally.

When you recall the apocalyptic language that the Catholic Church has been using to oppose gay marriage, and its predictions of the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, (including several increasingly hyperbolic interventions by Ratzinger himself) you would have thought that Catholic politicians would have felt it beholden upon them to vote against.
But not so. An interesting by-product of the controversial Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was the number of supposedly Catholic MPs who voted in favour of it.

There are 82 known Catholic MPs. Of them, 57% voted for the Bill with 34% against and 9% registering no vote.

But this illustrates that Catholic politicians in this country do not, in general, take their whip from the Vatican. (Some do of course, and are quite open about it). Even so, politicians still labour under the impression that there is a “Catholic vote” that can be corralled. There is no such constituency.

But this is the latest of many recent indications that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has become increasingly isolated under Ratzinger’s arrogant rule. Its many political confrontations with governments around the world who are trying to modernise their societies usually result in defeat for the Church.

Let’s have a look at a few:

During the American presidential election, the Church decided that it was totally opposed to President Obama’s plan to introduce a health insurance mandate. The reason? It would include funding for contraception.
In an effort to placate the bishops, Obama has since offered two radical modifications that would relieve the Church of having to provide contraception to its employees. But, as is its way, the Church will accept nothing less than total surrender.

There is a strong suspicion that this confrontation was manufactured as a means of defeating Obama at the election. It was presented as “an attack on religious freedom”, but it was perceived as a peevish assault on the rights of women.

As we know, the Church’s attempt to derail Obama’s campaign failed. Indeed, it could be argued that the Church’s hysterical behaviour and childish demands for complete obedience went a long way to ensuring that Obama got his second term.

The Catholics in the pews suddenly started thinking for themselves and the bishops were unable to order them into voting the way the Church told them to. Instead of rushing to the polling booths to defeat Obama, Catholics voted for him in record numbers.

In Spain – once regarded as the most Catholic country in the world – the previous secularist Government legalised same-sex marriage. The Church set its face against such a reform and agitated violently against it. The reform passed. The new Government, which is supposedly sympathetic to the Vatican promised to repeal the law. It has failed to do so, thwarted by the constitutional court. Abortion reforms were enacted, Church privileges were reduced, and changes made to the stranglehold the Church had on education.

InPortugal, similarly, same-sex marriage is now legal. This despite the Catholic Church’s best efforts to defeat it.

In thePhilippines, the Church declared that a Bill in parliament to make contraceptives legal and freely available must not pass. It passed.

In Ireland, once unquestioningly under the thumb of the Catholic Church, the child abuse revelations have been so extreme that it caused the Prime Minister to denounce the Church in parliament and has since closed the Irish Embassy at the Vatican. The Church is also trying to defeat a small change to the stringent abortion law that would allow women who have been raped to have an abortion. It is unlikely that the Church will prevail.

In South American countries, which the Pope could once guarantee to rule with a rod of iron there have also been rebellions. InBrazil gay marriage was approved (although the Church succeeded in defeating attempts to reform the harsh abortion laws). In Mexico City same-sex unions are now legal.

This political agitating, and these attempts to interfere in democratic parliaments is increasingly resented. Poll after poll shows that the Catholic population do not agree with or accept the Vatican’s doctrines on abortion, contraception, homosexuality or assisted suicide.

This is reflected in the dwindling number of Catholics who continue attend Mass – or have anything else to do with the Church.

Joseph Ratzinger will now disappear from the scene. Many will sigh with relief at his departure. But we shouldn’t celebrate too soon. He has put in place a college of Cardinals that are as reactionary as he is – or even more so.

Whoever they elect as the next Pope, there is unlikely to be much improvement.

National Secular Society | Terry Sanderson, President | 11th February 2013

Ireland: The Magdalene Laundries report confirms the need to keep church and state matters separate

Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny

It takes an age to squeeze much remorse out of the Irish government, doesn’t it? In 1999, after decades of child abuse in Catholic-run organisations, it finally issued “a sincere and long-overdue apology” to the victims and set up a Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, which took nine years to present its findings.
Now the government has been told – by a report prompted two years ago by the UN Committee Against Torture – that the Irish state colluded in sending 30,000 women to the infamous Magdalene Laundries between 1922 and 1996.

The prime minister, Enda Kenny, didn’t apologise to the families of the women who’d been incarcerated in these hellish institutions despite committing no crime. He said: “The stigma [of] the branding together of all the residents… in the Magdalene Laundries needs to be removed.” No, it doesn’t. The stigma of the Laundries will survive as a reminder of how inhumanly innocent people can be treated by supposedly charitable institutions.

These were places where “loose girls” or “fallen women” could be packed off to, girls impregnated by their fathers or uncles or the local priest, girls who were considered too flightly or flirtatious or headstrong to be biddable members of society. They could be put to work all day, washing sheets for the military, fed on bread and dripping, forbidden to speak and offered no way out, or any explanation about why they were imprisoned. Half of them were teenagers, doomed to spend their best years in a workhouse, being humiliated by nuns, told they’d offended God and that their parents didn’t want them.

The Laundries’ existence isn’t news. People have been familiar with their cosy-sounding name for years. Joni Mitchell wrote a song about them on her 1994 album Turbulent Indigo. Candida Crewe wrote a novel about them in 1996. Miramax produced the 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters, left, directed by Peter Mullan. The only people seemingly oblivious to their existence are Irish politicians.

Why they stayed oblivious is pretty clear. Ireland has had a chronic problem of keeping church and state matters apart. Government and church traditionally, if tacitly, support each other – which meant, in the past, the authorities turning a blind eye to abusive priests. The girls sent to the Magdalene Laundries had committed no crime – they were accused of committing sin – but they could be taken by Gardai and locked away in prisons funded by the state.

No wonder the government didn’t want the ghastly business coming into the light. It’s vital Mr Kenny tries to frame some response to the victims’ families beyond feeling sorry for what the victims endured. And the Magdalene report confirms the importance of keeping church and state matters separate – even if, as we’ve seen in this week’s historic Commons vote, the institutions are heading for a fight.

The Independent | John Walsh | 6th February 2013

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