Friday, April 23, 2010

Pope's Obstruction-of-Justice Immunity Might Be Overturned, Houston Attorney Says

The Houston Press published a potentially significant article yesterday titled The Man Who Sued the Pope.

It tells the story of Daniel Shea, a Houston attorney who filed a civil suit against the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on behalf of victims molested by a Catholic seminarian.

In December 2004 Shea added as a defendant one Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then in charge of the church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The amended filing charged Ratzinger with participating in an international obstruction of justice in clergy sex abuse cases, based on a letter he sent to all Catholic bishops on May 18, 2001. It said allegations of abuse should be reported only to the congregation and not to local public officials. Shea highlighted a footnote in the letter citing Crimen Sollicitationis, a 1962 Latin document from the Holy Office which, he said, set the stage for the obstruction by requiring secrecy in similar matters back then.

The article reports that Ratzinger was actually served with papers to testify in a Houston courtroom and scheduled to appear.

Not long after, however, Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican asserted he had immunity from prosecution as a head of state, the U.S. State Department told the court it agreed, and the judge dismissed the pope from the case.

Shea says the broadening sex abuse scandal in Europe and Latin America leads him to hope that some other government may reject the immunity argument. After all, Ratzinger was not acting as a head of state when he set policy for handling sex abuse cases and allowed at least some offenders to go unpunished. And his handling of the controversy since becoming pope was in his capacity as the official leader of the Catholic Church, not as the head of the Vatican state. Shea hopes that some government will buy that distinction and hold Ratzinger accountable in court.

Shea has another hope, but the outcome is less likely. He suggests that Ratzinger was elected pope because the conclave sought explicitly to give him immunity against child abuse lawsuits. If that could be proven, it would taint the papal election and bring calls for Pope Benedict XVI to resign because of the appearance of impropriety.

While such intrigue would exceed those imagined in The DaVinci Code, it is implausible the electors of the College of Cardinals would be savvy enough to concoct it. And getting anyone who was behind the closed doors of the Sistine Chapel to admit to it seems even more far fetched. However, it is important to note that critics of the pope are thinking along these lines and that they are being lured in that direction because the assertion of immunity feeds the strong suspicion that Joseph Ratzinger really does have something sinister to hide.

I have emailed several editors and reporters at the National Catholic Reporter to alert them about the article and suggest that they might want to look into it in more depth.

I would also note that on its website Village Voice Media, the national group of newspapers to which the Houston Press belongs, recommends the article as its pick of the week. So it's likely to cause ripples far beyond Houston.

1 comment:

colkoch said...

That's one interesting article. I could see where Benedict could have traded his own silence on ALL of the corruption in the College of Cardinals for the papacy.

Diplomatic immunity for him then makes a great deal of sense as it gives him an excuse to keep silent.