Atheists Call for Pope's Arrest

British atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are calling for an arrest of Pope Benedict XVI over "crimes against humanity" for his handling of the massive sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

Dawkins and Hitchens are currently consulting lawyers over the validity of Benedict's immunity to arrest as a head of the Vatican state. The two authors plan to have the pope arrested when he makes his visit to the UK in September.

"There is every possibility of legal action against the Pope occurring," lawyer Mark Stephens told the Telegraph. "Geoffrey and I have both come to the view that the Vatican is not actually a state in international law. It is not recognised by the UN, it does not have borders that are policed and its relations are not of a full diplomatic nature."

The allegations by the authors were prompted by the surfacing over the weekend of a controversial letter signed by future pope Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1985 asking church officials to consider the "good of the universal church" against the defrocking of an American priest who had molested several young boys.

According to a translation of the letter made by the Associated Press, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that the Catholic court "although it regards the arguments presented in favour of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ's faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner."

Two years after the letter, the offending priest, Stephen Kiesle, was dismissed from his position. Kiesle, who had done his clergy work in the Bay Area, was later sentenced to six years in prison in 2004 for molesting a young girl nine years earlier.

"[The Pope] is a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence," Dawkins said.

"This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalised concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded payoffs, but justice and punishment," Hitchens said.

The plan to arrest Benedict has put pressure on Queen Elizabeth and the UK's next Prime Minister over how to deal with the religious leader, who will be staying in Buckingham palace and holding several talks with British governmental leaders during his stay.

Meanwhile, the Vatican announced a new level of transparency in dealing with the abuse scandal, posting a guide on its website explaining its dealings with accused clergy members and also announcing that the Pope will be holding more meetings with abuse victims.

Benedict will be in Malta over the weekend to observe St. Paul's shipwreck on the island 1950 years ago, although fallout from the abuse scandal has even met the pontiff there.

Several cases of abuse have surfaced against priests at the St. Joseph Orphanage at Santa Venera, where at least one victim, Lawrence Grech, claimed that the clergy made them dress up as women on a regular basis. Grech has said that the Pope has not responded yet to his request for a personal meeting.

Security has been stepped up on the island due to growing unrest over the scandal, which resulted in posters of the Benedict being defaced with Hitler mustaches and the word "pedophile."

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