2 Dec 2010

U.S. lawsuit accuses Pope Benedict and other Vatican officials of negligence for enabling abuse at school for deaf

Courthouse News Service - U.S. April 22, 2010

Illinois Man Sues Pope & Vatican in Wisconsin Sex Abuse Case


MILWAUKEE (CN) - The Roman Catholic Church knew about sexual abuse at a Wisconsin school for the deaf since the 1970s but did nothing about it because the accused priest was considered "too valuable to the deaf school to remove," one of the priest's alleged victims claims in a federal lawsuit that targeted the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI.

"John Doe 16" of Illinois says he wrote a letter to then-Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodano in March 1995, claiming that the Rev. Lawrence Murphy molested him for several years while he was a student at St. John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisc.

Murphy is accused of abusing 200 boys at the school from 1950 to 1975. Although Murphy died in 1998, the case renews criticism that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now the pope, knew about the accusations but failed to act.

"The problem of childhood sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic clerics ... is almost as old as the Roman Catholic Church itself," the lawsuit states. "Defendant knew that there was a high probability that these clerics would sexually molest more children, but sought to protect itself from scandal, sought to keep its income stream going, at the peril of children."

The 55-page lawsuit takes aim at how the Roman Catholic Church has handled accusations of sexual abuse in the past.

"While the 'public' policy of the ... Holy See is to forbid childhood sexual abuse by priests and clerics within its control, the actual 'private' or secret policy is to harbor and protect its abusive priests, clerks, bishops, archbishops, agents and employees from public disclosure and prosecution, in order to maintain the pope's rightful claim of control and thereby ensure that its parishioners, followers and financial contributors will keep confidence in the institution, continue to view the Holy See and the pope as deserving of allegiance, and, therefore, continue to contribute money and property" to the institution.

The lawsuit says Murphy admitted to Archbishop Albert Meyer that he sexually abused boys at the school. In 1972, the Archdiocese got a letter from a mother that outlined an "unfortunate episode involving [her] daughter ... and the administration at St. John's School for the Deaf in the person of Father Murphy," according to the complaint.

The lawsuit says a boy also complained in either 1972 or 1973 that Murphy has sexually molested him. Several other boys came forward, claiming they too were sexually molested, the lawsuit states.

In 1974, a group of deaf students delivered 15 to 20 affidavits to Archbishop William Cousins, but they were told that "Murphy was too valuable to the deaf school to remove him," according to the complaint.

Plaintiff says he wrote two letters to Sodano about his alleged abuse, indicating in the letter that Murphy has admitted to molesting 34 children.

Plaintiff does not offer any specifics of sexual abuse that he says he suffered.

"Ratzinger, Sodano and Bertone each knew or should have known before plaintiff's letters to Sodano that Murphy had sexually molested children," the lawsuit states.

Plaintiff says he did not discover that defendants knew about sexual abuse at the school "until recently" because Ratzinger and others purposefully dragged their feet.

"Defendant knew that there was a high probability that these clerics would sexually molest more children, but sought to protect itself from scandal, sought to keep its income stream going, at the peril of children."

Defendants are Ratzinger, Bertone, who was Ratzinger's boss at the time of the investigation, Sodano and the Holy See, with an address of Apostolic Place, 00120 Vatican City, Europe.

The lawsuit accuses defendants of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, negligence and fraud, among other things.

Plaintiff wants the Holy See to report all allegations of childhood sexual abuse in "each and every one of the United States," and "to act in the best interests of children."

He is represented by Paul Scoptur with Aiken & Scoptur.

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1 comment:

  1. Explosive sex abuse lawsuit against Vatican dropped

    by John L Allen Jr., National Catholic Reporter Feb. 11, 2012

    ROME -- A Wisconsin sex abuse lawsuit against the Vatican, which helped trigger a global firestorm in early 2010, was withdrawn late Friday. It marks the formal end of a case that seemed to cast doubt on Pope Benedict XVI’s role in the abuse crisis, and shifted focus from local bishops to an alleged cover-up in Rome.

    Lawyers for the victim filed a notice of voluntary dismissal on Friday, effectively abandoning the lawsuit. It had named not only the Vatican but also Pope Benedict XVI and two senior Vatican officials, Cardinals Tarcisio Bertone and Angelo Sodano, as defendants. The suit had been filed by Minnesota-based attorney Jeffrey Anderson, who has frequently represented sex abuse victims against the church.

    Anderson said at the time the case was filed that he hoped to take formal depositions from Benedict XVI, Bertone and Sodano, concerning the Vatican’s role in the sex abuse crisis. Bertone is the current Secretary of State, the top official in the Vatican after the pope, a position formerly held by Sodano.

    Anderson told NCR on Saturday that the decision to withdraw the case was "pragmatic and practical," based largely on the fact that as a result of proceedings related to the bankruptcy of the Milwaukee archdiocese, he had already obtained most of the files regarding the Vatican's involvement he could have gotten through a separate lawsuit. Those documents are presently under seal, he said, but he said they paint an "ugly picture" of the Vatican's role.
    "We have not in any way abandoned our effort to hold the Vatican legally and fully accountable," Anderson said.

    While Anderson said he does not plan to refile the Wisconsin case, he still hopes to pursue depositions of Vatican figures such as Bertone and Sodano as part of other litigation. In the meantime, he said, he plans to depose Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, a former archbishop of Milwaukee, about his role in the Wisconsin case.

    The Vatican’s lawyer, California-based Jeffrey Lena, nevertheless welcomed the withdrawal of the case.

    “A case like this, which was held together by a mendacious web of claims of international conspiracy, amounts to what appears in its aftermath to have been little more than a misuse of judicial process and waste of judicial resources,” he said.

    With the collapse of a similar case in Kentucky in 2010, Friday’s dismissal leaves only the Doe v. Holy See case in Oregon, originally filed in 2002, as an active sex abuse claim against the Vatican in American courts. (Another lawsuit in Chicago has been filed but not served on the Vatican through diplomatic channels.)

    Anderson said that another reason for dismissing the Wisconsin case is that it allows attorneys to concentrate on the litigation in Oregon.

    In terms of jurisdiction, lawyers for the Vatican argued in the Wisconsin case, as they have in others, that the Vatican is immune because it’s a sovereign state. Substantively, they contended that under church law, responsibility for supervising priests and other church personnel rests with local bishops, not in Rome. ...

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