The Case of Lebanese Priest Mansour Labaki: Towards a New Legal Classism?


2013-12-06    |   

The Case of Lebanese Priest Mansour Labaki: Towards a New Legal Classism?

On October 10, 2013, the Secretariat of Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarchate issued a statement on the issue of father Mansour Labaki. According to the French newspaper La Croix, Labaki was recently convicted of child molestation by a special Vatican court in France. The secretariat said that Labaki’s case is “an issue that concerns the church and is being handled by the Vatican circles”. It called on all parties to respect the church's prestigious position and authority and not to tackle the issue outside the framework of the church. It also called on the mass media to deal with the issue “responsibly”. This statement was supported by similar remarks by Lebanese politicians and officials who tried to play down or ignore the story. For example, Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi told Lebanese newspaper, al-Akhbar, on October 10 that he “does not want to discuss an issue concerning a man of religion”, despite the serious religious verdicts issued against Labaki.

The Legal Agenda considers these positions a threat to democracy and justice in Lebanon, and while it fully upholds the principle of the presumption of innocence, it would like to make the following observations:

First: Several questions can be raised about the way religious and political authorities, particularly at the Ministry of Justice, have dealt with this issue. The fact that the convict or defendant is associated with a religious institution made the media and judicial circles deal with the issue with leniency and exceptionalism. Ordinary Lebanese individuals who commit or are accused of committing a serious crime, such as sexual harassment of children, are not dealt with in such a deferring fashion. A man accused of raping children in Jeita and Beirut a few months ago is a case in point. The incident stirred a media fuss and made TV headlines. In addition, the security and judicial agencies went out of their way to brag about the detention of the defendant. None of these agencies spoke out when it came to Labaki under the pretext that he is a man of religion, paying no heed to the principle of equality before the law.  

The Legal Agenda would like to remind the Beirut Patriarchate Secretariat, the minister of justice and all officials that crimes, especially those related to child abuse, do not cease to be so when their perpetrators are men of religion. On the contrary, men of religion shoulder a greater penal and moral responsibility given that they enjoy the confidence of the society that entrusts them with its children. Thus, they should be held to a higher standard of care.

 

Second: Labaki's trial before an ecclesiastical court is not under any circumstance a substitute for a civil trial. This is especially the case given that the “punishment” meted out to Labaki (praying in the green scenic area of Brummana, a town in Mount Lebanon) is considered, if he is found guilty, an insult to all his victims given the seriousness of the crime he was convicted of by the ecclesiastical court itself. Claims of the unfairness of the latter by some of Labaki’s defenders is one more reason for prosecuting Labaki according to the standards of a fair trial enshrined in the penal code. If he is proven innocent, then the Vatican court has wronged him. If he is proven guilty, then he should be sentenced to prison -where he can also pray- alongside “ordinary” child molesters who do not enjoy the privileges bestowed in Lebanon upon men of religion.

 

Third: The Legal Agenda calls on the Lebanese judiciary, particularly the Public Prosecution Office, to take this issue seriously and to immediately investigate the case of Mansour Labaki and his actions on Lebanese territories in recent years. The Legal Agenda also urges the judiciary to prosecute him in case he is suspected of crimes similar to those he was convicted of committing by the ecclesiastical court in France. It is disturbing to see the Lebanese judiciary standing by idly amid news of the alleged sexual abuse of Lebanese children at the hands of a religious authority. Meanwhile, this same judiciary tirelessly pursues foreign workers, refugees and other vulnerable segments of society that do not enjoy the protection of a religious, political, or feudal authority.

 
Fourth: In view of the fact that this case concerns a former official working at a childcare institution, The Legal Agenda calls for an investigation of these institutions that shelter a large number of children (around 23,000 children) with a view to stressing two important factors. First, efforts should be made to find alternative procedures to keep children with their families as per the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It should be noted that the majority of children sent to these institutions are not orphans, but rather poor. Second, there should be close monitoring of the work of these institutions, not because they are necessarily bad, but because the persons they serve are more vulnerable to abuse and are in more need of the protection of the state.

References:

[1] See al-Akhbar, August 5, 2013.

 

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