Lawyer wants pope's testimony in Oregon abuse case

Suits name the Vatican as a respondent on grounds that it employed clergy suspected of abuse. Papal spokesmen say it is a sovereign entity and immune from the American court system.

By Mitchell Landsberg of the Los Angeles Times

Pope Benedict XVI is a head of state and the leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide. To Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who represents victims of sexual abuse by priests, he is also a potential legal witness.

Unlikely as it may seem, Anderson intends to demand the pope’s testimony in a sexual abuse case wending its way through court in Oregon.

“I don’t think I would require him to come to Oregon,” the attorney said in a recent interview. “I would go to him … and videotape and transcribe his testimony.” The Vatican, he said, should be treated “like any other corporation that is subject to the power of the American court system.”

Increasingly, the Vatican, an independent city-state headed by the pope, stands in the cross hairs of lawyers and investigators probing cases of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. The church is fighting back, maintaining both that it is not responsible for the actions of abusive priests and that it enjoys sovereign immunity from the U.S. legal system.

Several lawsuits filed in the United States have named the Vatican as a respondent, and attorneys in at least two cases are seeking a court order demanding testimony from the pope, among other top church officials. Police in Belgium last month raided church offices and opened tombs in a search for evidence in abuse cases, prompting Benedict to assail “the surprising and deplorable manner” in which the raids were carried out.

Anderson, who has become the Vatican’s leading legal antagonist in the clerical abuse cases, hailed a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that dealt a procedural blow to the Vatican in its effort to shield itself from liability. Two days later, Anderson filed a new lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court that targeted the Holy See.

“Look, I’ve been working with survivors, handling these cases for 25 years, and I knew that all roads in this scandal or crisis, whatever you want to call it, lead to Rome,” said Anderson, a Minneapolis attorney. “I feel really resolute about this, and feel that we now have a great deal of legal authority and traction at our feet and wind at our back, and we’ve never had that before when it comes to the Vatican.”

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