There’s a lawsuit pending in Tennessee that could result in Pope Benedict XVI being put under oath and forced to give testimony about the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandals:
VATICAN CITY — Dragged deeper than ever into the clerical sex abuse scandal, the Vatican is launching a legal defense that the church hopes will shield the pope from a lawsuit in Kentucky seeking to have him deposed.
Court documents obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press show that Vatican lawyers 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.
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.
“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 secret documents subpoenaed.
The case will be allowed to proceed mostly likely, but most experts seem to agree that Benedict will not be required to testify for a very simple reason:
The United States considers the Vatican a sovereign state — the two have had diplomatic relations since 1984. In 2007, U.S. District Court Judge John Heyburn rejected an initial request by the plaintiffs to depose Benedict.
“They will not be able to depose the pope,” said Joseph Dellapenna, a professor at Villanova University Law School an author of “Suing Foreign Governments and their Corporations.”
“But lower level officials could very well be deposed and there could be subpoenas for documents as part of discovery,” he said.
Yes, it’s absurd on some level that the Vatican is considered a country because of things that happened thousands of years ago, or that the Pope is considered a Head of State, but that’s the law.
Of course, if the Church were really interested in putting this scandal behind it, officials would be opening up their files, not using procedural motions in Federal Court to prevent the truth from coming out.