August 19, 2005
The Vatican has asked Bush to grant Pope Benedict immunity in a lawsuit that accuses him of conspiring to cover up the sexual abuse of three boys by a Texas seminarian:
The Vatican’s embassy in Washington sent a diplomatic memo to the State Department on May 20 requesting the U.S. government grant the pope immunity because he is a head of state, according to a May 26 motion submitted by the pope’s lawyers in U.S. District Court for the Southern Division of Texas in Houston.
Joseph Ratzinger is named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit. Now Benedict XVI, he’s accused of conspiring with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to cover up the abuse during the mid-1990s.
… In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Gerry Keener, said Tuesday that the pope is considered a head of state and automatically has diplomatic immunity.
Which is depressing, given Benedict’s apparent role in trying to keep a lid on the abuse scandal:
In May 2001, [Ratzinger] sent a confidential letter to every bishop in the Catholic church reminding them of the strict penalties facing those who referred allegations of sexual abuse against priests to outside authorities.
The letter referred to a confidential Vatican document drawn up in 1962 instructing bishops on how to deal with allegations of sexual abuse between a priest and a child arising out of a confessional.
It urged them to investigate such allegations “in the most secretive way... restrained by a perpetual silence... and everyone... is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office... under the penalty of excommunication.”
As I’ve written before, this isn’t a trivial issue. The Catholic Church itself estimates that 4,450 priests who served between 1950 and 2002 have faced credible accusations of abuse. And research by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice suggests that in the U.S. alone, 10,667 children were abused by the clergy during that period.
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