The strange case of the Pope and his Butler

I noticed that the Pope’s butler has been rotting in sweltering Vatican cells until the other day, when a press officer announced that he has been placed under house arrest. Beyond that, I paid little attention, on the grounds that life is short and the Catholic Church’s odious little statelet isn’t all that interesting. But my friend Conor Gearty has been paying attention, which is only right and proper as he understands Human Rights law. Not that they go in for that kind of thing much in the Vatican.

The web site of the Holy See takes you to a Vatican City State site, the section on the governance of which begins with the simple statement that ‘The form of government is that of an absolute monarchy’ [‘La forma di governo è la monarchia assoluta’]. Short summaries of the further disposition of power then appear. The ‘Fundamental Law of Vatican City State’ promulgated by John Paul II on 26 November 2000 has more on the nature of the Vatican flag than on the rights of anyone who might be affected by the exercise of executive power. Both the Holy See and the Vatican City State have signed up to various international Conventions – but these have not included anything so specific as the European Convention on Human Rights, with its prohibition on inhumane treatment, its demand for fair trials and its requirement that detention be non-arbitrary.