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The Vatican response to the clergy sex abuse scandal has gone into damage-control overdrive this week, the Associated Press reports, as church officials try to improve public sentiment before Pope Benedict visits Malta, Cyprus and other parts of the world.

Although some abuse victims and advocates have literally shown up at his doorstep lately, the pontiff is certainly more vulnerable outside his home turf. Security is being beefed up for this weekend’s Malta trip, where vandals have been defacing posters of the pope. Also of concern, the growing anti-Benedict movement in the United Kingdom now includes calls from infamous British atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to have the pope arrested for “international crimes against humanity” when he makes the first-ever papal state visit to England in September. From The Daily Telegraph:

Dawkin and Hitchens believe he should face criminal proceedings because his “first instinct” was to protect the church rather than the children in its care.

They are hoping to exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, on a Spanish warrant when he visited Britain in 1998.

Catholic Church leaders dismiss this as a publicity stunt, and note that the pope has diplomatic immunity. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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