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Let's not confuse crime and sin

Two funny things happened last week. First, Germany beat England 4-1 in the World Cup. That wasn't funny for me but the fun was in the English press. One old geezer swore he'd seen a worse match, on Clapham Common in 1950 between nine-year-old boys.

One paper roared, If our Battle of Britain pilots had defended like the English XI we'd all be speaking German now.

Another excused Rooney since he'd lost his strength, like Samson, by waxing his chest. Even so, many parents regretted calling their sons Wayne. As to Capello, the £6m-a-year Italian coach, he was a mix of Judas and Father Ted.

The truth is England's 11 over-paid individuals were beaten by a far better team. A fairer result would have been 7-2 to Germany.

Operation Chalice, the week's second funny thing, came straight out of The Da Vinci Code. Armed Belgian police with sniffer dogs broke up a meeting of the Bishops' Conference, including the Papal Nuncio, as if it were a suspect paedophile ring. They took away their computers and mobile phones and gave them no food for nine hours. Never, even on Good Fridays, had their lordships gone so hungry. Cardinal Bertone said the old Soviets were never this wicked.

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Other cops confiscated the computer of the former Primate Cardinal Danneels and drilled a hole in two predecessors' tombs to see via a micro-camera whether any sex abuse documents were hidden there. They also removed computers containing victims' data gathered by a commission set up by the bishops.

Vatican officials are tortoise-slow to defend abuse victims but, give them credit, they instantly howled support for their own. The Pope weighed in, a religious foreigner telling a democratic state how to deal with sex crimes.

Hence a second truth. When a Catholic priest abuses a Catholic child it is a crime that as such has nothing at all to do with the Catholic Church. That's the State's job.

Benedict stressed the Church's "autonomy" to conduct its own investigations. His tragedy and ours is that he still hasn't grasped that the Church only absolves sins. It has no more right to deal with crimes than the State has to punish sins.

Would the Pope claim autonomy if a priest is a serial-killer? If a prelate has solid grounds for thinking a priest is a killer or a sex-abuser, his first duty as a citizen is to call the police. Sin can wait, crime can't.

If long ago police in Boston, LA and Dublin had acted like the Belgians, many abuse victims would have been spared.


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