Pope Absolves Himself

The Trumpet [Houston TX]
February 15, 2006

In 2002, scandal erupted surrounding Catholic priests' sexual assaults on children—or, as Pope John Paul ii put it, the way church leaders "are perceived to have acted." The victims, and the world in general, demanded answers, wondering how a religious organization could allow such a problem to become so widespread.

The Vatican's response was dismissive at best—notably, that of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

With 2005 drawing to a close, Pope Benedict xvi found himself the target of a civil lawsuit. He was personally accused of conspiring with the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in Texas to cover up the abuse of three boys in the mid-1990s. His legal defense? Diplomatic immunity.

Opposing lawyers argued that a May 18, 2001, letter from Cardinal Ratzinger written as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was evidence that he was involved in a conspiracy: The letter stated that "grave" crimes like sexual abuse of minors would be handled by his congregation and that such proceedings would be subject to "pontifical secret" (Fox News, Dec. 23, 2005).

Ultimately, though, diplomatic immunity won out, with the judge dismissing Benedict from the lawsuit. No other religious leader on Earth could have used this particular defense. Commenting on the ruling, papal lawyer Jeffrey Lena stated that the pope "is entitled to immunity like any foreign sovereign without any special limitations imposed upon his immunity just because he is a religious leader" (ibid.).

This falls in line with the Vatican's original responses to the sex scandal. For more information, see our June 2002 article "How Deep A Wound?" on


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