Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, two of the world's most prominent atheist intellectuals, are seeking means to try the pope for crimes against humanity, their lawyers confirmed this weekend.
The pair are said to be working with British lawyers to see if the pope can be arrested for his part in the alleged cover-up of widespread sexual abuse in the Catholic Church during a visit to the United Kingdom in September.
The Vatican has suggested that the pope is immune to prosecution as he is a head of state - Dawkins and Hitchens suggest that he is not immune as the Vatican is not represented at the United Nations.
"I'm convinced we can get over the threshold of immunity," their lawyer Mark Stephens told The Guardian. "The Vatican is not recognized as a state in international law. People assume that it has existed for time immemorial but it was a construct of Mussolini, and when the Vatican first applied to become a member of the UN, the US said no. So as a sop they were given the status of permanent observers rather than full members."
Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, has confirmed he is seeking the pope's arrest, although he later denied reports he was planning to perform the arrest personally. Last month Dawkins wrote a scathing article for the Washington Post in which he called the pope:
A leering old villain in a frock, who spent decades conspiring behind closed doors for the position he now holds; a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part; a man whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless AIDS victims in Africa; 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 told the Sunday Times of London: "This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalized 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."