Monday, 26 April 2010

New Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Targets Pope

Sexual abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church so far have been restricted to church individuals and diocese across the country. A new federal lawsuit that was filed this week, however, names the Pope himself.

The lawsuit was filed in Milwaukee, and alleges that Pope Benedict and senior officials at the Vatican covered up allegations of sexual abuse even after receiving several reports and complaints. The plaintiff is an unidentified man from Illinois who says that he was abused over a number of years in the 90s. According to the plaintiff, he wrote several letters to the Vatican pleading with Cardinals to read out his letter to the Pope and let him know of the abuse.

Whether those letters ever made it even close to the Pope we may never know, considering that the church has built an impenetrable wall of secrecy around it. The sexual abuse lawyers here are trying to get the church to open confidential files that contain reports of clergy sexual abuse, as well as details of settlements that were paid out to victims. The lawsuit is also seeking monetary damages, as well as a jury trial.

Obviously, these lawyers face enormous challenges in trying to hold the church accountable for the actions of its members. The Vatican has thus far escaped any legal action against it on the basis that it is a sovereign state, and therefore, enjoys diplomatic immunity. However, the lawyer in this case plan to argue that the Vatican is a commercial organization that has its business interests spread out throughout the United States, and therefore, can be held liable for the actions of its members. He also plans to argue that the Church engaged in widespread injury of people inside the United States, and therefore can be held liable in a court here.

This is not the first time that the question of holding the pope and the Vatican liable for sexual abuse by clergy members in the United States, has come up before sexual abuse lawyers. Several legal experts have asked why the Catholic Church or the Pope should have special protection from sexual abuse lawsuits, considering that these abuses and crimes were perpetrated by the church's members. No organization enjoys such immunity, and the “sovereign state” argument seems bogus when you consider the size of the Vatican and the limited influence, if any, it enjoys on the world stage.

No other religious organization has that kind of immunity, and neither should the Church.

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