September 20, 2005
Not exactly a surprise, but still wrong:
ROME (AP) - The U.S. government has told a Texas court that Pope Benedict XVI should be given immunity from a lawsuit accusing him of conspiring to cover up the sexual molestation of three boys by a seminarian, court documents show.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Peter Keisler said in Monday’s filing that, as pope, Benedict enjoys immunity as the head of a state - the Vatican. He said that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would be “incompatible with the United States’ foreign policy interests.”
There was no immediate ruling from Judge Lee Rosenthal of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston, who has been presiding over the case. However, the Supreme Court has held that U.S. courts are bound by such “suggestion of immunity” motions submitted by the government, Keisler’s filing says.
… The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was named as a defendant in a lawsuit by three boys who allege that a Colombian-born seminarian on assignment at St. Francis de Sales church in Houston, Juan Carlos Patino-Arango, molested them during counseling sessions in the church in the mid-1990s.
Many lawsuits stemming from the U.S. church sex abuse crisis have named the pope, the Vatican and other high-ranking church officials, but they failed because the officials could never be served with the papers. This case got further than most recent ones because Ratzinger was actually served with the documents.
… The lawsuit alleges that Ratzinger, who headed the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before becoming pope, was involved in a conspiracy to hide Patino-Arango’s crimes and to help him escape prosecution.
The lawsuit cites a May 18, 2001, letter from Ratzinger, written in Latin to bishops around the world, explaining that “grave” crimes such as the sexual abuse of minors would be handled by his congregation and that the proceedings of special church tribunals handling the cases were subject to “pontifical secret.”
Daniel Shea, attorney for one of the three boys, has said such secret proceedings amounted to a conspiracy to cover up the crimes.
Shea isn’t giving up, however. He now intends to challenge the constitutionality of the U.S. diplomatic recognition of the Holy See on the grounds that it goes against the First Amendment’s “establishment clause.” In other words, this one could run and run.
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