Newsweek continued its campaign against the Catholic Church on Friday by letting one of the leading atheist (not to leave out anti-Catholic) voices internationally, Christopher Hitchens, spout half-truths and smears about Pope Benedict XVI and the Church. Most egregiously, Hitchens inaccurately stated that Vatican City "was created by Benito Mussolini," thus trying to tie Catholicism to fascism.
Almost a week before bringing in Hitchens, an infrequent contributor to their publication, Newsweek, through its "On Faith" blog, hosted a screed from author Donna Freitas, a "Stubborn Catholic" according to her own label, where she gushed his and Richard Dawkins's quest to arrest the Pope when he visits the UK later this year. As MRC's Tim Graham pointed out, the blog regularly "shows not respect for the Catholic faith, but maligns its leaders as murderous thugs and cult leaders." More prominently, Newsweek's religion editor, Lisa Miller, has raged against the U.S. Catholic bishops for daring to object to ObamaCare's abortion-friendly architecture, defended same-sex "marriage," and called for the ordination of women in recent weeks.
This paved the way for Hitchens, who began by poking fun of those objecting to his "arrest the Pope" publicity stunt with Dawkins:
Detain or subpoena the pope for questioning in the child-rape scandal? You must be joking! All right then, try the only alternative formulation: declare the pope to be above and beyond all local and international laws, and immune when it comes to his personal and institutional responsibility for sheltering criminals. The joke there would be on us.
The case for bringing the head of the Catholic hierarchy within the orbit of law is easily enough made. All it involves is the ability to look at a naked emperor and ask the question "Why?" Mentally remove his papal vestments and imagine him in a suit, and Joseph Ratzinger becomes just a Bavarian bureaucrat who has failed in the only task he was ever set—that of damage control.
The British author seems to be completely glossing over the fact that Benedict XVI, before he was elected pope, was the leader of the chief doctrinal office of the Catholic Church, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Later in the column, Hitchens claimed that then-Cardinal Ratzinger "sent [a letter] to all Catholic bishops, enjoining them sternly to refer rape and molestation cases exclusively to his office. That would be bad enough in itself, since any person having knowledge of such a crime is legally obliged to report it to the police."
That's not what the 2001 letter, titled "De delictis gravioribus," says or deals with. The letter begins with the phrase "in order to fulfill the ecclesiastical law." This immediately makes it clear that this document is specifically dealing with the Church's canon law, and not with criminal law. As Father Joseph Fessio, SJ clarified only days before on April 9, the CDF "was not the congregation that handles abuse cases" until this letter was issued.
After describing in detail how he consulted with "distinguished human-rights counsel in London, Geoffrey Robertson," Hitchens made his haphazard claim about the apparent fascist roots of Vatican City:
In Kentucky, the pope's lawyers have already signaled their intention to contest any such initiative by invoking "sovereign immunity," since His Holiness is also an alleged head of state. One wonders if sincere Catholics really desire to take refuge in this formulation. The so-called Vatican City, a political nonentity covering about 0.17 square miles of Rome, was created by Benito Mussolini in 1929 as part of his sweetheart deal between fascism and the papacy. It is the last survival of the political architecture of the Axis powers. Its bogus claim to statehood is now being used to give asylum to men like Cardinal Law.
In this instance the church damns itself both ways. It invites our challenge—this is where the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights becomes relevant—to its standing as a state. And it calls attention to the repellent origins of that same state. Currently the Holy See has it both ways. For example, it is exempt from the annual State Department Human Rights Report precisely because it is not considered a state. (It maintains only observer status at the United Nations.)
Where to begin with all this nonsense? Let's first address his claim that Vatican City is a "political nonentity." In a certain sense, this is true, because that city-state is not analogous to the Holy See, which conducts bi-lateral relations with 178 states around the world (according to the State Department's own background note), as well as the European Union. These ambassadors from these states are accredited to the Holy See, and not to Vatican City, and vice-versa, the nuncios (ambassadors) that the Pope sends in return to these states represent the Holy See. This framework had existed for centuries before Mussolini even came to power.
The numbers of states that have recognized the Holy See has fluctuated over this time. Even after the Italian nationalists conquered Rome in 1870, eliminating the last vestige of the Papal States, the Holy See maintained diplomatic relations with European powers such as Russia and Austria-Hungary.
The 1929 Lateran Treaty, signed by Mussolini on behalf of Italian King Victor Emmanuel III and Secretary of State for Pope Pius XI, Pietro Cardinal Gasparri, resolved the "Roman question" which had lasted since the 1870 Italian conquest, making the popes between Blessed Pius IX and Pius XI "prisoners of the Vatican." One of the three parts of the treaty established the sovereign territory of the Holy See, not only within the walls of the Vatican, but also recognizing the extraterritorial status of properties outside the Vatican, such as the major basilica churches of Rome and the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo. A second part of the treaty actually was a financial settlement whereby Italy compensated the Holy See for the losses of its territory and property.
By focusing on who signed the Lateran Treaty on behalf of Italy, and omitting the long history of diplomacy between states and the Holy See, Hitchens is spinning the facts in order to wage his vendetta against the Catholic Church, a vendetta Newsweek is fully taking part in.