Pope has immunity in abuse trials: Vatican

VATICAN CITY Thu Apr 1, 2010 2:11pm EDT

Pope Benedict XVI holds the crucifix as he celebrates the Chrismal Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 1, 2010. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

Pope Benedict XVI holds the crucifix as he celebrates the Chrismal Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 1, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Alessia Pierdomenico

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, accused by victims' lawyers of being ultimately responsible for an alleged cover-up of sexual abuse of children by priests, cannot be called to testify at any trial because he has immunity as a head of state, a top Vatican legal official said on Thursday.

The interview with Giuseppe dalla Torre, head of the Vatican's tribunal, was published in Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper as Pope Benedict led Holy Thursday services in St Peter's Basilica and Catholics marked the most solemn week of the liturgical calendar, culminating on Sunday in Easter Day.

In the morning the pope blessed oils for Church services during the year, and in the evening in the Rome basilica of St John's in Lateran he washed the feet of 12 priests to commemorate Jesus' gesture of humility the night before he died.

But on the day Catholics commemorate Christ's founding of the priesthood, the pope did not refer in any of his sermons to the crisis of confidence sweeping the Church as almost daily revelations surface of sexual abuse of children in the past, accompanied by allegations of a cover-up.

Dalla Torre outlined the Vatican's strategy to defend the pope from being forced to testify in several lawsuits concerning sexual abuse which are currently moving through the U.S. legal system.

"The pope is certainly a head of state, who has the same juridical status as all heads of state," he said, arguing he therefore had immunity from foreign courts.

Lawyers representing victims of sexual abuse by priests in several cases in the United States have said they would want the pope to testify in an attempt to try to prove the Vatican was negligent.

But the pope is protected by diplomatic immunity because more than 170 countries, including the United States, have diplomatic relations with the Vatican. They recognize it as a sovereign state and the pope as its sovereign head.

Dalla Torre rejected suggestions that U.S. bishops, some of whom have been accused of moving molesters from parish to parish instead of turning them in to police, could be considered Vatican employees, making their "boss" ultimately responsible.


"The Church is not a multi-national corporation," dalla Torre said. "He has (spiritual) primacy over the Church ... but every bishop is legally responsible for running a diocese."

Dalla Torre also rejected suggestions by some U.S. lawyers and critics of the Church that Vatican documents in 1962 and 2001 encouraged local bishops not to report sexual abuse cases.

He re-stated the Vatican's position that the documents, one of which called for procedures to remain secret, did not suggest to bishops that they should not report cases to authorities.

"Secrecy served above all to protect the victim and also the accused, who could turn out to be innocent, and it regarded only the canonical (church) trial and did not substitute the penal process," he said.

"There is nothing that prohibited anyone (in the Church) from giving information to civil authorities."

The Vatican has taken off the gloves in its response to media reports alleging the pope mishandled a series of abuse cases before he was elected.

It launched a frontal attack on the New York Times on Wednesday night by posting a long statement on its website (http:/www.vatican.va/resources/resources_card-levada2010_en.html)by Cardinal William J. Levada, who succeeded the pope (http:/www.vatican.va/resources/resources_card-levada2010_en.html)by Cardinal William J. Levada, who succeeded the pope as head of the Vatican's doctrinal department.

Levada asked the newspaper "to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on."

The Vatican has denied any cover-up over the abuse of 200 deaf boys in the United States by Reverend Lawrence Murphy from 1950 to 1974. The New York Times reported the Vatican and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, were warned about Murphy but he was not defrocked.

The Times said its reports were "based on meticulous reporting and documents."

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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Comments (25)
lizne wrote:
Did the Vatican ever hear the expression, ‘The buck stops here’? I have lost any faith in the church being able to respond appropriately, so it is then left up to people to take care of themselves and their families.

Anyone who is defending the Catholic Church right now, is morally and spiritually gone off course. That includes members of the church, clergy and the leaders of the church. I can hardly believe that people still bring their children to mass, to school, to allow them to work as altar boys, or in any way come in contact with a priest. How many people have to suffer before people wake up?

Are there some priests in the church who are above reproach. Probably so. That is irrelevant. There is NO trust that people can have in the church or their leaders and yet, the clergy and leaders are evidently the last to see that.

After all the damage and pain and suffering that has happened to people at the hands of priests, do you hear the clergy or the leaders of the church, crying over these victims? Are they hanging their head in shame? No, they are rising in indignation to protect the perpetrators of these crimes and trying to cover their backsides. Does that not speak volumes about who they are?

Last point, put yourself in the place of a young innocent child who has the misfortune to be abused by a priest in the Catholic Church. If you grew up after this abuse and discovered that it was a well known fact that this happened frequently in the church, that everyone on the planet was aware of it, wouldn’t you be asking yourself, why did my family allow me to be anywhere near a priest? Why would they risk it?

People must recognize that this will continue to happen and no one is going to correct it in the Catholic Church and anyone’s apology is useless when the damage has been done. If someone is so confused that they don’t realize that God gave children parents to protect them even from the clergy of the church, then they ought to examine their own understanding of God. I feel sorry for so many Catholics who are faced with such a wrenching decision, but I wouldn’t trust the church with my children, let alone my soul.

Apr 01, 2010 9:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
JustBeGood wrote:
If the Pope had any morality, goodnes, ethics, faith or a decent soul he would be more than willing to testify so the TRUTH comes out and anyone guilty is punished. Catholics should see that, him hiding behind the “Head Of State” title is the greatest cover-up of all, he is not willing to come forth and tell the truth, how could they look at the guy as good in any way shape or form.

Apr 01, 2010 9:18am EDT  --  Report as abuse
vznzj7 wrote:
Brilliant comment lizne, that too the final sentence “I wouldn’t trust the church with my children, let alone my soul” sums up it correctly. I am not a Christain, but have high regards towards Christanity because my wife studied in the Christan School and spoken high to me about Christanity. It is really a Shame that an head of a religion clinging to his post, like political leader no matter what happens. He was supposed to answer his conscious and god, instead just for the taste of power, he is hanging onto its post. Better Pope resign now to show the world that he always fear god rather than the power.

Apr 01, 2010 9:25am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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