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 CNS Story:

ABUSE-LAWSUIT Apr-23-2010 (1,100 words) xxxn

Vatican's lawyer says federal lawsuit against pope has no merit

By Catholic News Service

MILWAUKEE (CNS) -- The Vatican's U.S. lawyer said a federal lawsuit accusing Pope Benedict XVI of covering up sexual abuse by a priest at a Milwaukee Catholic school has no merit.

"While legitimate lawsuits have been filed by abuse victims, this is not one of them," Vatican attorney Jeffrey Lena said in a April 23 statement. "Instead, the lawsuit represents an attempt to use tragic events as a platform for a broader attack."

The lawsuit was filed April 22 in the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee by an unnamed Illinois man who claims he was molested by Father Lawrence Murphy while he was a student at St. John's School for the Deaf. The plaintiff is represented by Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson, who has filed thousands of abuse lawsuits against priests and representatives of the Catholic Church.

Father Murphy worked at the school for the deaf from 1950 to 1974. In the early 1970s, multiple allegations of sexual abuse against the priest were made to civil authorities, who investigated but never brought charges. He was placed on a leave of absence for a while and later returned to pastoral ministry in the Diocese of Superior, where he worked until 1993.

The Vatican chose not to laicize Father Murphy despite the recommendation of his bishop. In a recent statement in The New York Times, the Vatican said that by the time it learned of the case in the late 1990s, the priest was elderly and in poor health. The Vatican eventually suggested that the priest continue to be restricted in ministry instead of laicized, and he died four months later.

The Vatican decision not to proceed to a church trial and possible laicization came after the priest wrote a personal appeal to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who was head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation at the time, the Times article said.

The April 22 lawsuit claims the Vatican "has known about the widespread problem of childhood sexual abuse committed by its clergy for centuries, but has covered up that abuse and thereby perpetuated the abuse."

The lawsuit also intends to prove the Vatican is a global business empire, practicing in "commercial activity" in Wisconsin and across the United States and holding "unqualified power" over each diocese, parish and follower.

"The case against the Holy See and its officials is completely without merit," Lena said. "Most of the complaint rehashes old theories already rejected by U.S. courts."

Regarding Father Murphy, Lena said the Vatican and its officials "knew nothing of his crimes until decades after the abuse occurred, and had no role whatsoever in causing plaintiff's injuries."

He also said "first and foremost sympathy is due to the victims of the criminal acts committed by Father Lawrence Murphy. By sexually abusing children, (Father) Murphy violated both the law and the trust that his victims placed in him."

According to the lawsuit, Pope Benedict was named as a defendant in the case because of his authority to remove priests and his involvement in reviewing sex abuse cases when he was cardinal.

The same attorney representing the Illinois plaintiff also filed suit April 21 on behalf of a Mexican resident who claims he was sexually abused by a priest in 1997. The suit accuses Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera for transferring Father Nicolas Aguilar Rivera between dioceses even though he apparently had a history of sexual abuse. At the time of the abuse allegations, Cardinal Rivera was bishop of Tehuacan in the state of Puebla.

The complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles relies on a U.S. law that allows foreign victims of human rights abuses to bring their perpetrators to justice in U.S. courts.

Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told The New York Times that "Cardinal Mahony was not warned of the priest's history" before he was transferred to the archdiocese.

The priest, who was defrocked in 2009, has a 20-year-old warrant pending in Los Angeles for his arrest on 19 counts of child rape.

The Archdiocese of Mexico City in a statement called the accusations against Cardinal Rivera "calumnious and defamatory." It said the lawsuit is "no more than an opportunistic media deceit" taking advantage of the current atmosphere of attacks on the Catholic Church because of the criminal behavior of some priests.

The statement, reported by the Spanish news agency EFE, said the lawsuit's demands lack judicial substance. It added that the priest was not under the direct ecclesial jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Mexico City since he was a member of the Rome-based Theatine Fathers.

Father Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, told Univision, the U.S.-based Spanish-language TV network, that he expected the lawsuit would lead nowhere, as had two previous attempts to hold the archdiocese accountable for sexual abuse by a Mexican priest.

In Manila, Philippines, the lawyers of a Filipino priest accused of sexually abusing boys in the United States in the 1970s said they did not know enough about the case to respond to it.

According to UCA News, the Asian Catholic news agency, one suit against 73-year-old Benedictine Father Manuel Perez Maramba was settled by the Diocese of El Paso, Texas. Church officials in the Philippines have not spoken about the case and the priest's lawyers said that since the priest was not part of the proceedings for the settlement case, "there is nothing to deny or admit."

In Colorado, Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput asked for prayers for Father Melvin Thompson, parochial vicar at St. Thomas More Parish in Denver. The archbishop removed the priest from ministry April 8 after receiving a complaint from a man who reported that he had been sexually abused by him more than 35 years ago in an undisclosed Colorado parish.

The archbishop, in a column in the April 13 issue of the Denver Catholic Register, the archdiocesan newspaper, said he understands the frustration parishioners have expressed at losing a "respected and well-loved" priest who has never faced any previous allegation.

Catholics complained, the archbishop wrote, of the "unfairness" of relieving the priest of his ministerial duties one day after a single unsubstantiated accusation arose that the priest denies.

The archbishop said the presumption of Father Thompson's innocence must be respected, but that in accord with archdiocesan policies, the accusation was reported to civil authorities for investigation.

"In removing Father Thompson, or any member of the clergy from the ministry in a situation like this, we act purely to ensure the safety of children, families and the integrity of the church community," Archbishop Chaput said.


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