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How Vatican Tries to Dodge Legal Fallout of Sex Abuse Dana Kennedy Contributor (March 31) -- Developments in a Kentucky court case suggest that the Vatican will seek to shield Pope Benedict XVI and the church from liability in the worldwide clerical sex abuse crisis by distancing itself from individual dioceses. In legal documents filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville last week, the Vatican claims that as the head of a sovereign state, the Vatican City, the pope is immune from prosecution. The papers further assert that American bishops are not employed by the Holy See. The Vatican will also likely deny that a 1962 church decree about clergy and the reporting of clerical pedophilia is a "smoking gun" that led to a worldwide cover-up of sexual crimes. Pier Paolo Cito, AP The Vatican claims in legal papers that Pope Benedict XVI, here in St. Peter's Square, cannot be prosecuted in a Kentucky court case because he is the head of a sovereign state, the Vatican City. The slow-moving case was filed in Kentucky in 2004 on behalf of three men who said they were sexually abused by priests. It is being closely watched this week because it's the first such case in which the Vatican itself has been named as the sole defendant. Louisville attorney William McMurry wants to question Benedict under oath to find out what the Vatican knew about the Rev. Louis Miller, who is serving a 13-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2003 to sexually abusing one of the Kentucky defendants and other children. Miller was removed from the priesthood in 2004 by the late Pope John Paul II. "The world has finally woken up to all this abuse," said McMurry, who in 2003 secured a $25.3 million settlement between the Archdiocese of Louisville and 243 sex abuse victims. "But I worry that by the time we make real progress in court, everyone will have gotten bored with this story and have gone back to sleep. The Vatican is going to keep delaying everything until the public outcry for this fades away." The Vatican is seeking to dismiss the suit before Benedict can be questioned or secret documents subpoenaed. The Vatican's U.S. lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, warned in a 2008 brief that deposing a pope could have dire implications for other world leaders. "If Pope Benedict XVI is ordered to testify by a U.S. court, foreign courts could feel empowered to order discovery against the president of the United States regarding, for example, such issues as CIA renditions," Lena wrote. McMurry maintains that the Vatican is responsible for the widespread cover-up of clerical sex abuse because of the 1962 church document, "Crimen Sollicitationis," that he says forbid clergymen to report such crimes to police under threat of excommunication. Sources close to the Vatican told AOL News that the document does not preclude clergy from going to authorities, but simply lays out the procedure for dealing with such charges under canonical law. Like many of the cases exploding in the media around the world in recent weeks, the Louisville lawsuit has been meandering through the courts for a while. It comes under a microscope now because of the burgeoning allegations of priest pedophilia and claims that the cover-up stretches all the way to the Vatican. But in the end, the Kentucky case may illustrate the futility of trying to sue the Vatican, which many lawyers for abuse victims say purposefully drags out cases involving child sexual abuse. (A case in Ireland that led to the recent revelation that Cardinal Sean Brady had been involved in a priest abuse cover-up has been in the courts since 1997.) McMurry filed a memorandum Tuesday in support of his new motion to depose the pope and three top aides based on reports in The New York Times last week about a Wisconsin priest molestation case. McMurry said the documents make it clear that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, knew that the Rev. Lawrence Murphy was alleged to have sexually abused about 200 deaf boys. The lawyer said that strengthens his case that the Vatican is culpable for crimes committed by an American priest. McMurry is determined to see the case through, and he did convince the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule in an exception that Benedict's lawyers cannot protect him under sovereign immunity. But he is not optimistic about one day actually deposing the pope. "Do I think the Vatican will cooperate even if the Supreme Court tells them to? No," McMurry said Wednesday. "It doesn't matter. The goal here is to get to the truth of the secret society of the Vatican and make them be accountable and get to the truth." McMurry is waiting for the court to decide how deep he can dig into correspondence between U.S. clergy and the Vatican office that handles priest sex abuse cases, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "It is our understanding that not one American bishop ever reported [clerical] sex abuse to police," McMurry said. "It's our position that that's a result of a specific policy set by the Vatican." Michael Turner, 52, one of the three defendants in the case, told AOL News on Wednesday that he has not lost his faith in the Catholic Church, "just with priests who mess with kids." "I've been so disappointed with the church that I absolutely adore," said Turner, who said he was 12 when Miller sexually abused him. "It's all about secrecy. It's sad that people so high up knew about it and set it up so it could happen again." Turner shook Miller's hand in court and told him he forgave him. He said he later gave away most of the $50,000 he won in the 2003 settlement because, he said, "I didn't want it."
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