Could Ratzinger and Law be charged with crimes?

For their role in the Catholic sex scandals.

Some have accused Ratzinger of obstruction of justice for issuing a letter while cardinal to all Catholic bishops ordering, on pain of excommunication, that details of internal Church investigations into sexual abuse allegations were to be kept secret. (There is dispute over exactly what Ratzinger’s letter was about, so I’m not really clear on this.)

Also, there is evidence that Cardinal Bernard Law hid sex offenses by moving known sex offenders from from parish to parish.

So my questions are two:
(1) Are the facts of the cases as described above?
(2) If so, do the actions of Ratzinger and Law constitute criminal behavior?

I admit that I don’t like the Catholic Church, but I am genuinely seeking objective information in this OP (which is why I’m trying GQ). So if you don’t know what you are talking about, or if you are just coming into this thread to do some Catholic-bashing, YOU ARE NOT WELCOME. People who know the law and/or who are knowledgeable about the facts of the above cases, please enlighten.

It’s impossible to say whether a crime was committed without first assuming a particular set of facts.

One one crazy end of the spectrum: Law and Geoghan agreed to work together to give Geoghan maximum access to troubled youth in order to molest them. In that case, yes, Law would be guilty of a crime.

The other end of the spectrum: Law knew absolutely nothing about Geoghan’s activities, and had no reasonable way to know. In that case, Law is obviously guilty of no crime.

Now, where do the actual facts fall?

From what is known, Cardinal Law was certainly told of the molesting history of Fr. Geoghan, and despite that knowledge moved him into a new parish. However, Law himself said that the practice at the time – well before the massive molestation scandal came to light – was to seek the analyses of psychiatrists, clinicians, and therapists in residential treatment centers before deciding whether a priest accused of sexually abusing a child should be returned to the pulpit.

If Law had no intention of permitting the molestation to continue, and was merely mistaken about the wisdom or the efficacy of advice from psychiatrists, clinicians, and therapists, then no crime occurred. He may well be civilly liable for that negligent judgment, but it’s not a crime.

If there is any other information about Law that alleges criminal activity, I am not aware of it.

With respect to the “obstruction of justice” claim against then-Cardinal Ratzinger…

No. Unless the law imposes a specific duty to report a crime, you cannot charge anyone with obstructing justice for failing to report a crime, which is what your cite alleges that Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter commanded. At the relevant times, there was no law requiring bishops to report such crimes.

Cardinal Law’s actions do not rise to the level of crime unless it could be shown that he intended his actions to perpetuate sexual abuse, or that he acted with reckless disregard whether they would.

A civil tort action for negligence would probably be more appropriate.

I guess that was part of my question. If Law or someone knew of the sexual abuse of a minor and failed to report it, that would not be a violation of a law?

Ratzinger is a head of state. and thus possesses immunity from criminal prosecution. (I understand that this immunity is not codified in international treaties, but is generally acknowledged in customary international law; cite). This does not mean that you can’t debate whether he committed something illegal under American law; but this debate is futile.

I know that as a matter of fact neither will ever be charged with a crime. But I’m wondering if either engaged in criminal behavior.

But suppose you’re the Boston District Attorney and charge Ratzinger with various crimes. What happens next? If the prosecution goes forward, the only effect is that Ratzinger never enters US jurisdiction. The Boston DA can’t send a Navy SEAL team to Rome to arrest him and drag him back to the US.

OF course you can debate that. But the thread title is: “Could Ratzinger and Law be charged with crimes?” And the answer to this question is, in so far as Ratzinger is concerned: No, he cannot be charged with crimes, because he’s immune from criminal prosecution outside the state of which he is head. That’s not just a matter of fact, it’s a matter of law.

Well, I’m really interested in the question of whether Ratzinger and Law violated any law. So my title was poorly-chosen.

No, but someone in the government could, if he was wearing a turban instead of a miter.


Absent a law requiring them to report it, no.

At the time this conduct occurred, there was no law requiring Law to report such an allegation. (Ratzinger would have been outside the reaches of US law, for the most part, residing as he did in Rome).

In the wake of the scandal, several jurisdictions have enacted or beefed up “mandated reporting” laws, so it’s very possible that if the same behavior occurred today it would be criminal. But at the time, no.

So the upshot is, even if the behavior of Law and Ratzinger was dickish (and nobody has yet challenged my reading of the facts), it wasn’t criminal.

To be fair, this thread isn’t about challenging your reading of the facts though, rather, it is, given the facts as you posit them, were crimes committed by Mssrs. Law & Ratzinger? If you want to debate the unknown facts, that would require a different thread, wouldn’t it?

Well, question #1 in the OP was whether my description of the facts was accurate. It’s pretty clear that it needs to be established what was done before any conclusions about the criminality of what was done are established. I don’t claim to know the facts well enough to be able to present them ex cathedra, as it were.

Yes, although as I said above:

Thanks, Bricker. As always, you da man.

Tell that to Noriega.

Noriega never was a head of state. He effectively ruled Panama, but he never held the office of President, taking some military rank instead.

Ah…, I didn’t know that!