Lawyer Challenges Immunity for Pope
Suit Questions Diplomatic Status' Legality in a Local Sexual Abuse Case

By Harvey Rice
Houston Chronicle [Houston TX]
September 21, 2005

A Houston lawyer plans to challenge the constitutionality of the U.S. diplomatic recognition of the Vatican as he pursues a lawsuit accusing Pope Benedict XVI of conspiring to cover up the molestation of three boys.

The challenge by attorney Daniel Shea is in response to a U.S. government filing recommending immunity for the pope, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as a head of state.

"It's patently unconstitutional," Shea, whose client is known only as John Doe I, said Tuesday. "Joseph Ratzinger is not head of state. He's head of a church."

The filing in Houston federal court Tuesday by Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler states that it is in the interest of U.S. foreign policy that the pope have immunity. The government asks U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal to find that the pope is immune from the lawsuit under international law.

"The purpose of the suggestion of immunity is to cause the court to dismiss the case against Pope Benedict XVI," said Jeffrey Lena, a Berkeley, Calif., attorney representing the pope.

Shea said that accepting the claim of immunity creates "a conundrum for the church" because the pope has claimed he is the head of a church in earlier filings but now claims he is a head of state.

President Reagan formally recognized the Vatican in 1984 and sent an ambassador. Previous presidents have appointed personal representatives.

The lawsuit also names as defendants the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, Monsignor William Pickard and former seminary student Juan Carlos Patino Arango.

The pope, who was still Cardinal Ratzinger when he was added to the lawsuit early this year, wrote a letter in 2001 calling for adherence to a 1962 guideline for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy.

The lawsuit calls the guidelines "a virtual 'green light' for all bishops to actually facilitate, albeit secretly, the sexual exploitation of minors, and even brute animals, by clergy."

The lawsuit charges that Ratzinger's letter was part of a conspiracy that led to the molestation of three boys, listed in court documents as John Does I, II and III, 10 years ago by Patino Arango at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Houston.

Patino Arango fled to Colombia after being indicted by a Harris County grand jury.


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