U.S. Asks Court to Dismiss Abuse Suit That Names Pope
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
September 21, 2005
The Justice Department has told a Texas court that a lawsuit accusing
Pope Benedict XVI of conspiring to cover up the sexual molestation
of three boys by a seminarian should be dismissed because the pontiff
enjoys immunity as head of state of the Holy See.
In a filing on Monday, Peter Keisler, an assistant United States
attorney, 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 the Federal
District Court in Houston. But American courts have been bound by
such "suggestion of immunity" motions submitted by the
government, Mr. Keisler's filing says.
A 1994 lawsuit against Pope John Paul II, also filed in Texas,
was dismissed after the federal government filed a motion similar
to the one filed by Mr. Keisler.
Mr. Keisler's motion had been expected, because the Vatican Embassy
in Washington had asked the United States government to issue the
immunity suggestion and do everything it could to have the case
The pope, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was named as a
defendant in a civil lawsuit by three plaintiffs who say that Juan
Carlos Patino-Arango, a Colombian-born seminarian on assignment
at St. Francis de Sales church in Houston, molested them during
counseling sessions in the church in the mid-1990's.
Mr. Patino-Arango has been indicted in a criminal case by a grand
jury in Harris County, Tex., and is currently a fugitive.
The lawsuit says the pope, who as Cardinal Ratzinger headed the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, was involved
in a conspiracy to hide Mr. Patino-Arango's crimes and help him
escape prosecution. The lawsuit cites a letter from Cardinal Ratzinger,
dated May 18, 2001, and written in Latin to bishops around the world,
explaining that "grave" crimes like 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
Daniel Shea, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, has said such
secret proceedings amounted to a conspiracy to cover up the crimes.
The Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
have said that the secret church procedures in the sexual abuse
case were not designed to cover up abuse or to prevent victims from
reporting crimes to law enforcement authorities.
The document deals with church law, not keeping secrets from secular
authorities, the Vatican and the conference say.
The pope's lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, said yesterday that it was appropriate
that the Justice Department determined that the pope was "the
sitting head of state of the Holy See."
In a telephone interview, Mr. Lena said the motion would now be
considered by the Texas court.
Many lawsuits stemming from the church sexual abuse cases have
named the pope, the Vatican and high-ranking church officials, but
they have failed because the officials could not be served with
Cardinal Ratzinger, however, was served with legal papers.
Mr. Shea said yesterday that he would challenge the constitutionality
of the diplomatic recognition of the Holy See on the grounds that
it goes against the First Amendment clause barring laws "respecting
an establishment of religion."
Mr. Shea said that in trying to have the case dismissed, the pope's
lawyers had admitted in court papers that the Holy See was a church.
A May 26 motion to dismiss the suit, citing the First Amendment,
said the case should be thrown out because it would "invite
court intrusion into the internal affairs of the Roman Catholic
Officials at the United States Embassy to the Holy See said they
were familiar with the case but had no comment.
The Vatican also declined to comment.
Besides the pope, the lawsuit names as defendants Mr. Patino-Arango,
the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza and
the Rev. William Pickhard, Mr. Patino-Arango's vocational director.