Did the pope resign to avoid arrest and seizure of Vatican resources?
Snopes says this rumor has not been shown false at this time, however,
“It is unlikely that Pope Benedict’s resignation was prompted by any European government’s plans to issue an arrest warrant or take him into custody, because as long as held the position of Pope he was also the head of state of Vatican City and was therefore protected by diplomatic immunity.”
One he resigns, however, he will no longer be afforded such immunity, and church officials have expressed concern that he remain at the Vatican to protect him from criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits over sexual abuse issues involving the Catholic church:
Pope Benedict’s decision to live in the Vatican after he resigns will provide him with security and privacy. It will also offer legal protection from any attempt to prosecute him in connection with sexual abuse cases around the world, Church sources and legal experts say.
“His continued presence in the Vatican is necessary, otherwise he might be defenseless. He wouldn’t have his immunity, his prerogatives, his security, if he is anywhere else,” said one Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It is absolutely necessary” that he stays in the Vatican, said the source, adding that Benedict should have a “dignified existence” in his remaining years.
Vatican sources said officials had three main considerations in deciding that Benedict should live in a convent in the Vatican after he resigns on February 28. The final key consideration is the pope’s potential exposure to legal claims over the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals.
In 2010, for example, Benedict was named as a defendant in a law suit alleging that he failed to take action as a cardinal in 1995 when he was allegedly told about a priest who had abused boys at a U.S. school for the deaf decades earlier. The lawyers withdrew the case last year and the Vatican said it was a major victory that proved the pope could not be held liable for the actions of abusive priests.
Benedict is currently not named specifically in any other case. The Vatican does not expect any more but is not ruling out the possibility.
“(If he lived anywhere else) then we might have those crazies who are filing lawsuits, or some magistrate might arrest him like other (former) heads of state have been for alleged acts while he was head of state,” one source said.
Another official said: “While this was not the main consideration, it certainly is a corollary, a natural result.”
After he resigns, Benedict will no longer be the sovereign monarch of the State of Vatican City, which is surrounded by Rome, but will retain Vatican citizenship and residency.
That would continue to provide him immunity under the provisions of the Lateran Pacts while he is in the Vatican and even if he makes jaunts into Italy as a Vatican citizen.
There have been repeated calls for Benedict’s arrest over sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
When Benedict went to Britain in 2010, British author and atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins asked authorities to arrest the pope to face questions over the Church’s child abuse scandal.
Dawkins and the late British-American journalist Christopher Hitchens commissioned lawyers to explore ways of taking legal action against the pope. Their efforts came to nothing because the pope was a head of state and so enjoyed diplomatic immunity.
In 2011, victims of sexual abuse by the clergy asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the pope and three Vatican officials over sexual abuse.
The New York-based rights group Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and another group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), filed a complaint with the ICC alleging that Vatican officials committed crimes against humanity because they tolerated and enabled sex crimes.
The ICC has not taken up the case but has never said why. It generally does not comment on why it does not take up cases.
The Vatican has consistently said that a pope cannot be held accountable for cases of abuse committed by others because priests are employees of individual dioceses around the world and not direct employees of the Vatican. It says the head of the church cannot be compared to the CEO of a company.
Victims groups have said Benedict, particularly in his previous job at the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department, turned a blind eye to the overall policies of local Churches, which moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them and handing them over to authorities.