April 11, 2010 / 6:32 PM / 9 years ago

British campaigners threaten pope with arrest

LONDON (Reuters) - British author and atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins will try to have Pope Benedict arrested to face questions over the Catholic church’s child abuse scandal when he visits Britain later this year, one of his lawyers said Sunday.

British author Richard Dawkins, who wrote The God Delusion, stands on a bus at the launch of an atheist advertising campaign, in London January 6, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Dawkins, a scientist and outspoken critic of religion, has asked human rights lawyers to examine whether charges could be brought against the pope.

The four-day trip, from September 16 to 19, will be the first papal visit since Pope John Paul II’s pastoral visit in 1982 and is the first official papal visit to Britain.

The Catholic church has rejected claims the pope helped to cover up abuse by priests and the Vatican has accused the media of waging a “despicable campaign of defamation” against him.

Dawkins and the English journalist Christopher Hitchens have commissioned lawyers Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to explore ways of taking legal action against the pope.

In an email to Reuters, Stephens said there are three possible approaches: a complaint to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, a private or public prosecution “for crimes against humanity” or a civil case.

They will argue that the pope does not have diplomatic immunity from prosecution as a head of state because the Vatican has “permanent observer status” at the United Nations rather than full membership and voting rights.

Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion” and “The Selfish Gene,” told the Sunday Times newspaper that he suspected child abuse by church members had been covered up.

Hitchens, who published a book in 2007 called “God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion,” said: “This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalized concealment of child abuse is a crime under any law.”

Critics have accused Benedict of negligence in handling abuse cases in previous roles as a cardinal in his native Germany, and in Rome.

The Vatican has denied any cover-up over the abuse of 200 deaf boys in the United States. The pope has not commented directly on the wave of sexual abuse allegations that has shaken the church around the world, including the United States, Ireland, Italy and Germany.

Reporting by Peter Griffiths; Editing by Michael Roddy

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