MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The attorney for a man who says he was sexually abused decades ago by a now-deceased priest at a Wisconsin school for the deaf alleged Sunday that the Vatican refused to be served with a lawsuit over the matter.
St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who frequently clashes with the Catholic hierarchy over abuse allegations, said Sunday in a news release that his office tried to serve the lawsuit naming as defendants Pope Benedict XVI and other high-ranking officials at the Vatican, but that it was returned via Federal Express.
Anderson’s client, listed in court papers as John Doe, is a deaf man from Illinois who alleged in his lawsuit that the late Rev. Lawrence Murphy molested him for a number of years while Murphy worked at a Milwaukee-area school for the deaf. The lawsuit contends that Pope Benedict and other Vatican officials conspired to keep quiet decades of abuse allegations against Murphy.
Anderson did not immediately return a call Sunday seeking comment. According to his release, he is planning a news conference Monday in which he’ll accuse the Vatican of “dragging out the healing of deaf victims.”
Jeffrey Lena, the U.S.-based attorney for the Vatican, said in an e-mail Sunday that the lawsuit should have been served through diplomatic channels as would be done with any foreign state. He wrote that holding a news conference on such a matter “is really just a form of grandstanding by Mr. Anderson for the press and the public.”
A U.S. federal judge had in October asked the Vatican to cooperate in serving court papers to the pope and two other Vatican officials, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Cardinal Angelo Sodano. The Vatican is not obliged to comply with such requests.
Murphy, who died in 1998, has been accused of sexually abusing some 200 boys at the deaf school from 1950 to 1974. In 1996, Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland had complained about Murphy in a letter to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the powerful Vatican office led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1981 until he became pope in 2005.
That office initially ordered Weakland to hold a canonical trial against Murphy in 1997, but later changed course after a letter from the accused. The Vatican noted Murphy’s advanced age, failing health and lack of further allegations.
The Vatican argues it’s not liable for clerical sex-abuse cases under canon law and a church structure that holds bishops — and not Rome — responsible for disciplining pedophile priests.
Plaintiffs in a similar case in Oregon have sued the Vatican using a similar approach. Anderson represents clients in that proceeding as well, and on numerous occasions has expressed a desire to hold prominent Vatican leaders liable for sexual abuse by priests.
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