The Vatican has been served with court papers stemming from decades-old allegations of sexual abuse against a now-deceased priest at a Wisconsin school for the deaf.
Jeff Anderson, an attorney for the man making the allegations, said he had been notified the papers were filed through official diplomatic channels.
“Every time we make a step forward, as long as that takes, we are going in the right direction,” Anderson said. “And the direction we’re headed is a measure of accountability. We really believe that we need to put some heat on the Vatican to bring some light.”
The Vatican’s U.S.-based attorney, Jeffrey Lena, said Tuesday he still has to evaluate the papers to determine whether they meet the requirements imposed by U.S. law.
“It’s premature to comment what will happen next in the case,” he said.
The lawsuit was filed nearly a year ago in federal court on behalf of Terry Kohut, now of Chicago. It claims Pope Benedict XVI and two other top Vatican officials knew about allegations of sexual abuse at St. John’s School for the Deaf outside Milwaukee and called off internal punishment of the accused priest, the Rev. Lawrence Murphy.
In October a U.S. federal judge asked the Vatican to cooperate in the serving of court papers. The Vatican was not obliged to comply with the request.
In January, Anderson said representatives of his office served the lawsuit at the Vatican’s office of the
Assessor for General Affairs, but that it was returned via Federal Express. At the time, the Vatican’s lawyer, Lena, said the lawsuit should have been served through diplomatic channels as would be done with any foreign
Kohut’s lawsuit alleges Murphy molested him for several years starting around 1960 while Murphy worked at the school for the deaf. The lawsuit contends Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI; Cardinal Tarcisio
Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, and his predecessor, Cardinal Angelo Sodano conspired to keep quiet decades of abuse allegations against Murphy.
Murphy, who died in 1998, allegedly sexually abused some 200 boys at the deaf school from 1950 to 1974. In 1996, Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland complained about Murphy in a letter to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the powerful Vatican office led by then-Cardinal 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 Murphy. The Vatican noted Murphy’s advanced age, failing health and lack of further allegations.
Kohut wrote two letters to Sodano in 1995, reporting he had been abused by Murphy and asking for help.
Kohut’s lawsuit contends he “continues to suffer great pain of mind and body, shock, emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, disgrace, humiliation and loss of enjoyment of life” — as well as years of lost job income and bills for medical and psychological treatment.
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.
Anderson also has a pending lawsuit against the Vatican in Oregon for a man who claims he was abused at his Catholic school in the 1960s. Anderson has asked a federal judge to require the pope and the other Vatican officials to testify.
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