Geoffrey Robertson re: Mea Maxima Culpa doco

Went to see human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson give a Q&A at the Dendy cinema after the screening of Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God. Robertson is in the doco and wrote a book: The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuses. He studied law at the University of Sydney and his first writing was for the SULS magazine, Blackacre.

In 2009, Robertson starting investigating what looked like “a widespread systematic pattern of abuse – as lawyers would say”.

“It was a human rights problem but Amnesty and the United Nations had not taken notice. [After his book] they have taken up the cause. “

“Most priests aren’t paedophiles.

“Mostly boys were abused in institutions. Girls were molested and their babies given to a Catholic adoption agency. Sins of the flesh with women tend to be overlooked by saying the requisite number of Hail Marys.

“I’ve read thousands of pages of testimony and what strikes me overwhelmingly is the age of children – from 7 years – indoctrinated that the priest is an agent of God. Don’t brainwash children — at least wait until they’re teenagers and have a chance to kick them in the groin.”


“I hope the law will intrude on all supernatural operators in this country. The chair of the commission,  Peter McClellan, is very good, I’ve worked with him before.”

“There was a brave priest in Wollongong [Maurie Crocker] –a whistleblower. He went to the Church and nothing was done, so he finally went to the Illawarra Mercury. Everyone was involved in paedophilia – a college principal, two former mayors (one a State MP), an alderman, several senior Monsignors. Crocker was so ostracised he killed himself. There’s a memorial in Dapto to him. A very courageous man.”


He said lawyers are trying to “hoist the Vatican on its own petard” (fall into a trap of its own making). That is, if it wants to stay internationally recognised as a State, it should follow international conventions.

“The Vatican was given Statehood in return for supporting a Fascist, Mussolini. The Vatican has ratified fewer human rights treaties than China. The Vatican can’t be part of the European Union because it’s not a democracy and never will be. Instead, the Vatican is a rogue state where you can get around EU rules.

“It opposes human rights — Benedict was a fanatic in his destruction of ‘liberation theology’, he was a compulsive lobbyist against the UN – he upset family planning initiatives and had a sinister ideology against women’s emancipation. When he visited Sydney he personally vetoed nuns doing needle exchange. This ‘charming’ academic could produce results which were cruel.”

He said the Ireland might take lead the world in applying pressure for the Vatican to lose its Statehood. “Ireland is the most ‘priest-ridden race’, as James Joyce said. Ireland no longer has an embassy in the Vatican.

“Compare that to the scandal in Australia – Kevin Rudd said we needed an embassy in the Vatican and put a SA Liberal in charge, Tim Fischer. If you get your passport pickpocketed in the Sistine Chapel, you don’t go to Australia’s Vatican Embassy – there’s no purpose in it. You go to the Australian Embassy in Rome.

“Yet the Vatican Embassy is beautiful with millions spent on it – and millions in security to protect Tim Fischer. Who’d want to attack Tim Fischer? Taxpayers’ dollars are entirely useless being spent building our self esteem with the Vatican.” [Coincided with MacKillop sainthood being granted.]

“Several large Catholic charities already oppose the Vatican’s Statehood – Cafod and Caritas. They want to keep religion out of international politics.”


“I don’t think this Curia is capable of reform. Cardinal Bertone is malevolent. He congratulated a bishop who moved priests from parish to parish. He and Cardinal Sodano should never have any power again.

He said the African nominee from Ghana, Cardinal Turkson, had claimed there weren’t gay problems in Africa because of Africa’s “cultural feelings” towards homosexuality. “A lot of ‘problem’ priests were shipped off to Africa. A top priest [Kit Cunningham] in Britain returned his MBE on his deathbed – it turned out he’d been molesting children in Africa.” Robertson said in Africa, some priests rape nuns because they believe God can cure AIDS if you have sex with a virgin.


Robertson had two earlier encounters with Ratzinger: one re: attempts to get Pinochet tried for war crimes. “In 1999, his [Ratzinger] was the loudest voice denouncing us as a disgrace. Maybe he had an intimation of what could be in store for him.”

The other case was when Robertson represented middle-class Catholic playwrights detained in Singapore for two years by Lee Kuan Yew, for “exaggerating the problems of the poor” (as “there are supposedly no poor in Singapore”). “Ratzinger did a deal with the government and the idealising young Catholics were sacrificed to the ideas of Singapore orderliness.”

From 2001, every single priest sex abuse case went to Ratzinger  – “he has all the data”.

“Ratzinger was an academic, always on the side of the priest,” Robertson said. “Abuse was endemic. He never told them they’d burn in Hell. H didn’t defrock offending priests – he just put them in monasteries, told them to go to Confession, repent and go to Heaven. Or in the case of Marcial Maciel, he was sent to live quietly in Florida and told not to put his head above the parapet. Ratzinger promised reform, but buried his head in the sand.

He said Ratzinger was liable for negligence in “case after case”. Eg “Irish Archbishop Connell BEGGED Ratzinger to defrock Fr Walsh [an incorrigible paedophile] but instead he was sent to a monastery, and ended up molesting a boy at a funeral a couple of days later.”

“There’s a group of German lawyers and Yale University Lawyers who have filed briefs with the ICC (International Criminal Court). As an ex-Head of State, Ratzinger now has no immunity.

“A problem is that the ICC’s jurisdiction only covers from 2002 to 2005, so it probably won’t catch many offences. But the American tort lawyers will follow up civil cases.

“I hope Benedict lives out the rest of his life behind walls – he’s likely to be sued by American torts lawyers for negligence re: dealing with sex abusers. He no longer has immunity as a Head of State; the Vatican will pay the bill.”


1. Abandon canon law, which provides a way of treating abuse cases in secret.

2. Stop suggesting that complaints should be dealt with “in house”. “The Church usually says” We’ll pass allegations to the police UNLESS it will be an ordeal for your son. So let’s deal with this in-house …”

3. Major challenge: to have married priests, women priests. “Marriage doesn’t cure paedophilia, though.”

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