Serving court papers on the Pope takes some doing. According to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), for the first time a US federal judge has entered the fray in a case involving alleged sexual abuse by the late Rev. Lawrence Murphy at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Judge Rudolph T. Randa of the US District Court for the Eastern Division of Wisconsin in Milwaukee recently released three two-page documents asking the Vatican to cooperate in serving paper on three of its highest officials, including the Pope himself, a.k.a. Joseph Ratzinger. Also to be served are Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who is the Secretary of State, and Angelo Sodano, another Italian cardinal who was Bertone’s predecessor and is now the Dean of the College of Cardinals.
They are “wanted” in conjunction with what they knew when of the abuse against Terry Kohut by Father Murphy. The local bishop contacted the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith that Ratzinger headed before his promotion to request an ecclesial trial. The trial went forward, but after a letter from Father Murphy to the Roman congregation it was eventually called off, supposedly due to the man’s age and ill health. SNAP and supporters see this as one more case of the Vatican favoring perpetrators over victims. Some satisfaction will come if/when the officials are forced to testify.
The “letters rogatory,” as the judge’s missives are known, probably will not get very far very fast. The Vatican likes its correspondence to arrive in Latin so translation of such legal materials takes time. Its attorneys claim the lawsuit is without merit, that the alleged abuse took place more than thirty years ago. The Vatican routinely “disappears” when these cases emerge, suddenly asserting that it is the local bishops’ conferences that are in charge of priests and not the Vatican.
Whatever happens with this legal action, and frankly I doubt much will come of it in the lifetime of the main players, it is important to note that at least one US judge had the integrity, compassion, and legal grounds to do the right thing. Here’s hoping others join him.