Plans are afoot to have the pope arrested upon arrival in the UK (see also here where Dawkins clarifies that he is not the one behind the intended arrest but he is in full support of the idea). Comparisons have been drawn with Pinochet’s arrest a few years back, but the situation isn’t quite the same – there was already an outstanding warrant for Pinochet’s arrest for war crimes, which is not the situation with Ratzinger. It’s been argued that he could be persecuted for crimes against humanity by allowing the continued abuse of children at the hands of paedophile priests and knowingly covering up their offenses, allowing said priests to move to parishes where it was known they’d come in contact with more vulnerable children (which does count as a criminal offense under international law).
Whether or not it is actually possible to arrest the pope from a legal point of view, what is likely to happen when they try?
There could be an international outcry from all the Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico etc. But there’s another way it could all pan out.
Disclaimer: I am not an ecclesiastical lawyer; these are simply the musings of an interested layperson. Make of them what you will, YMMV, etc. 🙂
If the higher ups in the Catholic Church are smart, the pope’s arrest could be the ideal opportunity to deal with a very embarassing situation and save face in a major way – using a tactic that has precedent within the annals of the Church itself. The Vatican will be well aware of the plans to arrest Ratzinger, and no doubt politicking has been going on behind closed doors. His election was controversial from the start, and no doubt his actions since his election will have caused more than a few cardinals to regret their voting choice. He has certainly been one of the more unpopular and, indeed, hated popes in recent history. It is rare indeed that a pope is referred to by his birth name instead of his assumed name as pope – how often, indeed was the Venerable Pope John-Paul II referred to as Karol Wojtyła by anyone whilst pope? Even his fiercest critics referred to him by his pontiffical name, and continue to do so – whereas Pope Benedict XIV is often referred to as Ratzinger (and insulting diminutives such as “Rat” or “Ratzy”) in the popular media and by his (numerous) critics. He has made few friends but a great many enemies.
The moment he sets foot on British soil, the police swoop and he is arrested. Cue outcry and protests worldwide… and cue the convening of the College of Cardinals in an enclave to formally depose him and elect a new Pope. Ratzinger is denounced as the protector of paedophiles and failure to protect the innocents in all the parishes where he knowingly allowed paedophiles to lurk, defrocked and excommunicated in absentia, and left to the hands of the secular authorities to prosecute as they see fit. At one stroke, the Church has handed over a sacrificial goat, be seen to have done something, and placated the hundreds upon thousands of voices baying for his resignation. (Funnily enough, the last time this happened was to another Pope Benedict – the XIII, to be precise, in 1417.)
In order for the Church to survive though, I suspect such events would rapidly be followed by a Vatican III, I think.
Unlike the secular attempt at arrest and charging of Ratzinger, the deposing of a pope does at least have plenty of ecclesiastical precedent. From the Church’s point of view, solving the issue of the troublesome pope with a very dubious and murky past is fairly simple however.