Catholic Church Legal Defenses?
March 30, 2010
There have been many scandals in many different churches. The Church of Scientology is in the lime light for the alleged abuses (beatings actually) of adults by the head of the church. The fact that a high-ranking individual, who had been in the inner circle for 27 years, adds a lot of drama to the charges. However, it is the Catholic Church and the Pope that’s in the cross-hairs of many lawyers.
What makes the current mess so sticky for the Vatican is that the Pope is front and center. Dragged deeper than ever into the clerical sex abuse scandal, the Vatican is launching a legal defense that it hopes will shield the pope from a lawsuit in Kentucky seeking to have him answer attorneys’ questions under oath.
Vatican lawyers (it seems odd to add those two words together doesn’t it?) plan to argue that the pope has immunity as head of state, that American bishops who oversaw abusive priests weren’t employees of the Vatican, and that a 1962 document is not the “smoking gun” that provides proof of a cover-up. This all sounds too legalistic- too, well, too un-Christian!
But, what’s the Catholic Church to do in order to protect the Papa?
The Holy See is trying to fend off the first U.S. case to reach the stage of determining whether victims actually have a claim against the Vatican itself for negligence for allegedly failing to alert police or the public about Roman Catholic priests who molested children. The case was filed in 2004 in Kentucky by three men who claim they were abused by priests and claim negligence by the Vatican. Their attorney, William McMurry, is seeking class-action status for the case, saying there are thousands of victims across the country.
Class action stuff cost the Vatican dearly eight years ago!
“This case is the only case that has been ever been filed against the Vatican which has as its sole objective to hold the Vatican accountable for all the priest sex abuse ever committed in this country,” he said in a phone interview. “There is no other defendant. There’s no bishop, no priest.” The Vatican is seeking to dismiss the suit before Benedict XVI can be questioned or documents subpoenaed.
Plaintiffs in the Kentucky suit argue that U.S. diocesan bishops were employees of the Holy See, and that Rome was therefore responsible for their alleged wrongdoing in failing to report abuse. The Vatican’s strategy is to be formally filed in the coming weeks. Vatican officials declined to comment on Tuesday. It seems as though most of the higher-ups were busy with Holy Week. Ah, the irony of it all.
PS. Lawyers as far away as Australia have said they plan to use similar strategies.