The Sunday Times of London reported atheism campaigner Richard Dawkins and author Christopher Hitchens have asked human rights lawyers to draft a case for charging the pope for his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Human rights lawyer and United Nations judge Geoffrey Robertson wrote in The Guardian the pope should be tried for allegedly protecting predator priests.
"The Holy See can no longer ignore international law, which now counts the widespread or systematic sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity," Robertson wrote.
In September, Benedict is to visit London, Glasgow and Coventry, where he plans to beatify 19th-century Cardinal John Henry Newman.
The Times said Dawkins and Hitchens believe the pontiff could be arrested under the legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, during his 1998 visit to Britain.
"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," Hitchens, the author of "God is Not Great," said.
The atheists' statements came as the pope faced international scrutiny over a 1985 letter he wrote as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then leading the church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to Oakland, Calif., Bishop John S. Cummins. The letter said the "good of the universal church" should be considered and more time devoted to deciding whether to defrock a California priest who admitted in 1978 he molested two boys in a California church rectory.
Cummins had written the Vatican letters requesting the priest's removal beginning in 1985, but the priest wasn't defrocked until 1987.
Jeffrey Lena, a lawyer for the Vatican, said the church had acted "expeditiously" by the "standards of the time" and Cummins was the man most responsible for ensuring the priest did not abuse again.
In 1985, the CDC was not responsible for trying abuse cases, and Ratzinger was not "resisting pleas from the bishop to defrock the priest," Lena said.