PLANS to have the Pope arrested when he visits the UK will succeed because he is not a head of state, a solicitor said yesterday.
Atheist authors Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens proposed the action against the Pontiff for his handling of child abuse scandals in the Catholic church.
The writers’ solicitor Mark Stephens said applications will be made to courts in the UK and the International Criminal Court for a warrant for Pope Benedict XVI’s arrest.
His likely defence would be be that he is immune from prosecution during his visit to Britain in September, according to the lawyer.
Mr Stephens said: “The courts will examine the claim of immunity. I believe that an English court would reject it.
“If the Pope was here on a state visit, ordinarily a head of state would have sovereign immunity. What I believe is that because he’s not a sovereign, not a head of state, he’s not entitled to the defence.”
He said that the Vatican was declared to be a state by Benito Mussolini, but this had no standing in international law.
The Pope faced criticism after it emerged that he signed a letter that delayed the punishment of a paedophile priest in the US for the “good of the universal church”.
Writing in 1985, the future Pope said that he needed more time to consider the case.
Mr Stephens, who has represented abuse victims in the past said: “This will require the Pope to deal with the way in which he appears to have prioritised the reputation of the Catholic church over the welfare of children.”
Potential charges against the Pope would be crimes against humanity.
Dawkins said: “This 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.”
Hitchens, another prominent atheist, 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.”