Vatican spokesman: Atheist campaign to arrest Pope is publicity stunt


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Vatican City, Apr 14, 2010 / 02:20 am (CNA).- Dismissing an atheist campaign to arrest Pope Benedict XVI as "a stunt to get public attention," Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi has said the Pope's September visit to Britain will go forward. One campaign leader has in the past suggested that a Catholic upbringing is worse than many forms of child abuse.

The campaign, led by atheists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, claims the Pope has committed crimes against humanity. UK human rights lawyers are preparing a brief against Benedict, claiming he has covered up sex abuse in the Catholic Church, ANSA reports.

Atheist polemicist Christopher Hitchens has argued that the Vatican is not a legal state and Pope Benedict cannot claim diplomatic immunity.

For his part, Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and leading atheist, said he hoped to raise public consciousness "to the point where the British government will find it very awkward indeed to go ahead with the Pope's visit."

At the press conference Tuesday, Fr. Frederico Lombardi described the effort to arrest the Pope as "original."

"For the moment it appears to be merely a stunt to get public attention," he continued. "It would be very curious for the Pope to be arrested during a state visit."

Dawkins' past statements suggest a wider agenda. In an essay titled "Religion's Real Child Abuse," posted on his website in 2006, he speculated that instructing young people in the Catholic faith was worse than many kinds of physical abuse.

Discussing how sexual abuse can range in severity, he recounted a mild instance of molestation he suffered at nine years old.

For him the incident was "a disagreeable sensation" and produced a mixture of embarrassment and revulsion. However, in his view it was "certainly not in the same league as being led to believe that I, or someone I knew, might go to everlasting fire."

"Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is, I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place," Dawkins wrote.

According to ANSA, security will be tightened for the papal visit to Britain after victims' groups and secularists announced a series of high-profile and potentially provocative events.

However, Fr. Lombardi said there were "no particular security concerns" about the Pope's visit to Malta this coming weekend. He reported that the Pope does not plan to discuss the abuse scandals in Malta, but will address immigration and values.

According to Fr. Lombardi, Pope Benedict is willing to meet with victims of abuse privately, as he has done during visits to Australia and the United States.

While media reports have tried to connect Pope Benedict with cover-ups of sexual abuse, critics have found significant factual inaccuracies and omissions in them. His defenders point to his actions against sex abuse as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

During his Sept. 16-19 visit to Britain, the Pope will meet Queen Elizabeth and beatify renowned convert and theologian, Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman.

The pontiff's visit to the United Kingdom will be the first state visit by a Pope. The 1982 visit of Pope John Paul II was pastoral in nature.