If you are interested in reading more, please check out MercatorNet’s focus blog on the sexual abuse crisis — Just B16

A prominent
Australian-British human rights lawyer and United Nations jurist has suggested
that the Pope be put on trial for crimes against humanity. I think that this is
a brilliant idea.

Geoffrey Robertson
outlined his scheme in The
and a number of Australian newspapers. Although he feels strongly
that the Vatican is fraudulently representing itself as an independent country,
the Pope should be brought to account for systematic abuse of human rights during
his pontificate. Since 2002, he points out, heads of state are no longer immune
from prosecution before the International Criminal Court. For instance, a
warrant has been issued for the arrest of the president
of the Sudan, Omar al-Bashir
, for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

In Pope Benedict’s
case, Robertson argues that this includes sexual abuse of minors:

The ICC Statute
definition of a crime against humanity includes rape and sexual slavery and
other similarly inhumane acts causing harm to mental or physical health,
committed against civilians on a widespread or systematic scale, if condoned by
a government or a de facto authority. It has been held to cover the recruitment
of children as soldiers or sex slaves. If acts of sexual abuse by priests are
not isolated or sporadic, but part of a wide practice both known to and
unpunished by their de facto authority then they fall within the temporal
jurisdiction of the ICC – if that practice continued after July 2002, when the
court was established.

But why stop at the Pope? Surely equity
demands that others should stand in the dock along with Benedict if sex abuse
happened on their watch and they failed to act energetically to stop it.

I suggest that the Secretary-General of the
United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, and his predecessor, Kofi Annan, be the first ones
to join him. Six years ago, the UN announced a zero-tolerance policy for
sex-abusers among its peacekeeping troops. But it is still struggling to get
member states to investigate and discipline soldiers. In fact, the UN’s
under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Alain le Roy, told the Wall
Street Journal
in March, “It’s my biggest headache and heartache, this
whole issue.” Sex abuse has been happening on a massive scale for years. There
have been abundant allegations against peacekeepers in Haiti, Cambodia, West
Africa, and Kosovo, amongst others.

Over the past three years, 75 peacekeepers
have been disciplined for sexual misconduct. But most of the time the nations
which contribute troops did not even respond to UN queries. Last year, only 14
of 82 requests for information were answered. “There is a natural instinct
to basically cover up the whole thing,” says Jordan’s Prince Zeid Ra’ad
Zeid Al-Hussein, who wrote a report in 2005 for the UN. “You don’t want
your name sullied or your reputation affected and so you try and bury it.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Closer to home, perhaps Mr Roberson should
consider indicting the executive director of USA Swimming, Chuck Wielgus.
Yesterday, ABC television (in the USA) featured an investigation of sex abuse in
organized swimming
. It found that 36 coaches – out of 12,000 — have been
banned for life for sexual misconduct over the last 10 years by USA Swimming.
The ABC claimed that “In some cases, the swimming coaches found to have been
sexual predators were able to move from town to town, one step ahead of police
and angry victims and their parents.”

Nor did Mr Wielgus offer much sympathy
after being badgered by the ABC. “You feel I need to apologize to
them?” he said. “I think it’s unfair for you to ask me whether
individually or me as the representative of an organization to apologize for
something when all we are trying to do is everything we possibly can to create
a safe and healthy environment for kids who are participating in our particular
activity.” At least Benedict has said “I’m sorry”.

How about, say, Texas Governor Rick Perry? Shouldn’t
he be standing there, too, to defend himself against claims that he failed to
prevent an epidemic of juvenile rape in his state’s prisons? Recent
have shown that at least 12 percent of juveniles in American
prisons are sexually abused by other youths or by staff. Typically, there has
been a massive cover-up in Texas, the media found:

Staff covered
for each other, grievance processes were sabotaged and evidence was frequently
destroyed. Officials in Austin ignored what they heard, and in the very rare
instances when staff were fired and their cases referred to local prosecutors,
those prosecutors usually refused to act. Not one employee of the Texas Youth
Commission during that six-year period was sent to prison for raping the
children in his or her care.

Tu quoque, the argument that I’m not guilty because you
did it too, must be the worst of all arguments. But anyone with
the facts acknowledges that the Catholic Church’s problems are no worse than
those of other organisations, and they are probably a good deal better. A
reporter for yesterday’s issue of Newsweek had the bright idea of asking
insurance companies whether the Catholic Church paid higher premiums because its
employees were a greater risk. The answer was No  – and it never had. “We don’t see vast difference in
the incidence rate between one denomination and another,” said an insurer. “It’s pretty
even across the denominations.”

I wish that the record of the Catholic
Church were vastly better, but that’s not the point. What gets missed when the
failings of the Catholic Church are highlighted while other organisations go
unscrutinised is the fact that all of us are stuck in a
child-abuse crisis which stretches back for decades.

This came painfully to light this week in
Germany when the principal of a prestigious boarding school catering for the
left-wing elite, the Odenwald School, admitted that ghastly ritualistic sex
abuse had gone on for years under her predecessor. Most of the abuse took place
in the 1970s and 80s. “What I’ve heard completely goes beyond all imagining,”
said Ms Kaufmann, headmistress at the school since 2007. “I just don’t know how
this kind of behaviour carried on without teachers hearing cries of pain.” This,
by the way, was not a religious school in any way, shape or form.

Typically, complaints were ignored by
police and media. It first came to light in 1999 in the Frankfurter Rundschau,
but the other newspapers ignored it.

The intriguing aspect of these sordid
tales, which seem to be far more colourful than anything that happened in
Catholic institutions, is their link to the sexual experimentation of the 60s
and 70s. The
Irish Times
, which has the only major anglophone newspaper to cover the
story, says that the teachers at “saw themselves as revolutionaries”, who were
initiating them into the 1970s sexual revolution. “It was suggested to students
that the respected principal understood them very well and that it was even a
sign of recognition to show mutual affection,” wrote author Amelie Fried, a
former pupil, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.
“We students were happy to be able to explore our sexuality in an angst-free
climate. That some teachers used this freedom as a cover for their assaults is
a scandal.”

“Exploring sexuality in an angst-free
environment” is a philosophy which has not died. In fact, it is the air we
breathe. When Freud died, the poet W.H. Auden wrote that “to us he is no more a person / now but a whole climate of opinion”. And how! An entirely justifiable outrage at paedophilia is being directed only
at adults abusing children. Children abusing children – in a non-coercive
environment – is so common in Western societies that it is not even regarded as
abuse. But what is widespread teenage sex except sex abuse? How can kids under 16
or even under 18 possibly give true informed consent when they are not capable
of understanding that these moments of 
“exploring sexuality” could scar the rest of their lives?

Paedophilia is rightfully despised and
feared because of the inequality of power between the child and the abuser. But
what if the child consents? Does that change the morality of the action? The Pope’s
view is No, it doesn’t, because sexuality is only meant for marriage. But amongst
those who believe that it is healthy to explore sexuality outside of marriage it
is inevitable that some will push over the boundaries.

Consider two cases of this.

The first comes from 1977, when the
French newspaper Le Monde
published an open letter signed by 69 French
intellectuals, including Jack Lang, a future minister for culture and minister
for eduction, and Bernard Kouchner, a future minister for health and president
of Medecines sans frontiers, along with luminaries like Jean-Paul Sartre, Giles
Deleuze and Roland Barthes.  They
were protesting the imprisonment of three men accused of having sex with 13 and
14-year-olds. What’s wrong with that, the intellectuals asked. If 13-year-olds
have the right to get the Pill, surely they have the right to have sex with
whomever they want?

Is this attitude dead and buried? Not by a
long shot!

The second instance comes from this year,
from the Huffington Post, the highly popular internet magazine which has
published virulent attacks on the Catholic Church over the paedophilia crisis. As
an example, one of this week’s headlines was Vatican
Chooses to Prey on Rather Than Pray for Children
. On January 1 this
estimable publication ran an article, Embracing
Teenage Sexuality: Let’s Rethink the Age of Consent
. The author, bioethicist
Jacob M. Appel, argued

These draconian
and puritanical [consent] laws are largely the product of a conservative
political culture that has transformed the fight against child molestation into
a full-blown war on teenage sexuality. We now live in a moral milieu so toxic
and muddled that we lump together as “sex offenders” teenagers who
send nude photos to each other with clergymen who rape toddlers. A first step
toward reversing this madness — and actually protecting the health and safety
of teenagers — would be to revise the age of consent downward…

How far downward? “Whether the age of
consent should be 16 or 15, or even a year younger, is a complex question that
our society needs to address.” But if the age of consent were 14 years old, isn’t
that basically legalizing paedophilia? The toxic legacy of the 60s lives on.

Perhaps Geoffrey Robertson is right.
Putting the Pope in the dock would spark a world-wide debate about paedophilia.
Why is it so difficult to police? What is there about our views on sex which
encourages it? Should we wind back our hypersexualised culture?

All the indicators are that the sex abuse
crisis in the Catholic Church is winding down now as the Pope and bishops get
tougher and priests have clearer views on authentic Christian sexuality. But no
one is preparing for the coming paedophilia crisis when the oversexed teens of
2010 are 34 and believe they still deserve to have some fun with 14-year-olds.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.