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Never gonna give you up
How the Catholic Church is sheltering the man who led the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Krajina.
Eamonn McCann, 06 Oct 2005
The Pope is helping one of the world’s most wanted war criminals to escape justice.
That’s the claim of Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague.
Ms. del Ponte declared last month that General Ante Gotovina is sheltering in a Catholic monastery in Croatia. She says that the Vatican won’t order the Croatian church to give him up, and that Pope Benedict XVI has ignored the Tribunal’s pleas for him to intervene.
Gotovina is wanted for the murder of at least 150 unarmed civilians and the forced expulsion of tens of thousands, near the end of the 1991-95 civil war.
Ms. Del Ponte’s allegations, made in Paris on September 19th, have attracted remarkably little attention in Ireland.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls issued a statement the following day saying that Ms. del Ponte had not provided enough information to enable the church to locate Gotovina.
“I don’t believe that,” responded Ms. Del Ponte, no-one’s idea of a liar. She insisted that the Vatican, if it wished, would be able “in a few days” to identify in which of 80 Franciscan monasteries the fugitive is being sheltered.
Gotovina commanded forces which drove up to 200,000 Serbs from their homes in the Krajina valley in 1995. Families were slaughtered to spread terror.
In July, Del Ponte met with Vatican Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo to ask for the Church’s help. According to Navarro-Valls, Lajolo made it clear “that the Secretary of State is not an office of the Holy See that can collaborate as an institution with courts.”
The prosecutor said that she had decided to go public after a direct appeal to Pope Benedict XVI had proven futile.
Gotovina is seen by the Tribunal as the most important suspect still at large from the Yugoslav conflict, with the exceptions of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, General Ratko Mladic. Tribunal officials say that they have credible evidence that he is being given sanctuary by the Franciscan order, and that this intelligence has been shared with the Vatican.
According to Ms. Del Ponte, Archbishop Lajolo had refused an appeal to the Vatican to act as a “back-channel” of communication to the Croatian Church. “I asked to have an interlocutor in the Vatican, but no, no possibility.” She said that she had asked the Vatican at least to repudiate a statement by Bishop Mile Bogovic of Gospic and Senj, referring to Gotovina as “a symbol of victory”. As a Catholic herself, she was “doubly disappointed” that they’d refused.
It’s strange that this story attracted so little comment here, given the intense controversy about the failure/inability of the Irish authorities to move against the Colombia Three, none of them charged with offences remotely as serious as those laid against Gotovina.
Navarro-Valls’ statement that “The Secretary of State is not an office of the Holy See that can collaborate as an institution with courts” referred to the status of the Catholic Church in international affairs. This issue came into focus in a UN General Assembly resolution in July last year which confirmed the Holy See as a “permanent observer,” and expanded the rights of its representatives to participate in the organisation.
The head of the Holy See delegation to the UN, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, thanked the General Assembly, saying that the resolution “reflects the lofty values and collective interests shared by the Holy See and the United Nations.” He described the UN as “an ordered international community built upon the strong edifice of law – a law not of whim and caprice but of principles stemming from the very universality of human nature.”
How then can the Vatican claim an entitlement not to “collaborate as an institution with courts”?
The answer is that it is not the Vatican as an institution nor Vatican City as a State which is accredited to the UN and has diplomatic relations with 174 countries, but the “Holy See.” Here’s how the Vatican itself explains the distinction on its website:
“Vatican City is the physical or territorial base of the Holy See, almost a pedestal upon which is posed a much larger and unique independent and sovereign authority/rule: that of the Holy See…When the Holy See enters into agreements for Vatican City State, it uses the formula: ‘acting on behalf and in the interests of the State of Vatican City.’
“Basically, the term ‘Holy See’ refers to the supreme authority of the Church, that is the Pope as Bishop of Rome and head of the college of Bishops. It is the central government of the Roman Catholic Church…
“The Holy See enjoys by its own choice the status of Permanent Observer at the UN, rather than of a full Member. This is due primarily to the desire of the Holy See to maintain absolute neutrality in specific political problems.”
Thus, Catholic officials can tell bodies like the War Crimes Tribunal that they are not required to collaborate with it, that they are entitled to maintain absolute neutrality with regard to….well, efforts to being war criminals to justice, for example.
Meanwhile, the Holy See demands, and is accorded, all the rights of “ordinary” States which are required to collaborate with international bodies and international law.
The purpose of the distinction is laid bare by the Gotovina case. It’s to put the Church above the law.
In the Church’s perspective, this makes perfect sense. The Church claims to speak for God on earth. It is answerable only to God’s representative on earth, the supreme authority, the Pope. It cannot, therefore, be subject to human law.
It is this view of the Church’s role and relationship to law which explains the then Cardinal Ratzinger’s notorious May 2001 letter to all the bishops of the world confirming that investigations into allegations of child sex abuse by clerics should be kept secret from civil authority.
“Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret,” Ratzinger’s letter warned. Breaches of the instruction would carry penalties, including excommunication.
Top prelates are no doubt delighted by the subtlety of the ploy which enables them to put the interests of the institution they preside over above all worldly law and human morality. Of what matter are the maimed bodies and souls of violated children, or the human rights of civilians who happened to stand in the way of a Catholic army on a murderous rampage, when compared with the God-endorsed entitlements of their institutional Church?
Ms. del Ponte sought help identifying monasteries in Croatia where Gotovina might be skulking. But has she considered the possibility he’s hiding out across the border in the Franciscan Church of St. James in Medjugorje, which is in Bosnia-Herzegovina but is controlled by the Catholic paramilitary gang, the HVO?
The monastery of St. James was an organising centre for the fascist Ustashe movement during World War Two, from which they issued forth to murder Muslims and members of the Serbian Orthodox Church. More recently, it has been the focus of the sinister hoax-cult of “Our Lady of Medugorje” in which thousands of Irish Catholics, including scores of priests and a number of bishops, have been complicit.
Ms. del Ponte should send in a search team, pronto.