Pope Benedict XVI faced claims last night he had 'obstructed justice' after it emerged he issued an order ensuring the church's investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret.
The order was made in a confidential letter, obtained by The Observer, which was sent to every Catholic bishop in May 2001.
It asserted the church's right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood. The letter was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected as John Paul II's successor last week.
Lawyers acting for abuse victims claim it was designed to prevent the allegations from becoming public knowledge or being investigated by the police. They accuse Ratzinger of committing a 'clear obstruction of justice'.
Bill Clinton was impeached for this, I believe (though his sexual indiscretions had nothing to do with small children). I'm not sure if you even can impeach the Pope. But obstruction of justice is a crime. What would happen if the Pope got sued? What about an indictment? Subpoena? Can you seek the extradition of the Pope? One thing is for sure: I would not want to be that prosecutor (note: I'm not opining at the moment on whether Benedict/Ratzinger is guilty of anything. I'm just engaging in a hypothetical sparked by the situation presented in the article).
On a somewhat related note, I just finished "The Trial of God," by Elie Wiesel. Fascinating book. I highly recommend it.