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August 21, 2005 - "Ha, ha - you can't TOUCH me!"

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The pope asks a favor from George Bush?  It would seem so. 

This, August 17, from the Associated Press via the Chicago Sun-Times - Pope seeks immunity in Texas abuse case. 

Say what?


VATICAN CITY - Lawyers for Pope Benedict XVI have asked President Bush to declare the pontiff immune from liability in a lawsuit that accuses him of conspiring to cover up the molestation of three boys by a seminarian in Texas, court records show. 

The Vatican's embassy in Washington sent a diplomatic memo to the State Department on May 20 requesting the U.S. government grant the pope immunity because he is a head of state, according to a May 26 motion submitted by the pope's lawyers in U.S. District Court for the Southern Division of Texas in Houston. 

Joseph Ratzinger is named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit.  Now Benedict XVI, he's accused of conspiring with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to cover up the abuse during the mid-1990s. 

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Gerry Keener, said Tuesday that the pope is considered a head of state and automatically has diplomatic immunity. 

Lawyers for abuse victims say the case is significant because previous attempts to implicate the Vatican, the pope or other church officials in U.S. sex abuse proceedings have failed - primarily because of immunity claims and the difficulty serving Vatican officials with U.S. lawsuits.


On the 18th Eric Alterman posts this comment from one of his friends –


This is the most interesting story of the week.  It's always been fairly plain that the Vatican - by which we mean the upper-level bureaucratic structure of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, has been hip-deep in the manure of this particular international conspiracy to obstruct justice ever since it broke wide open a couple of years ago.  Now, though, you have the former Cardinal Ratzinger attempting to cut a pre-emptive immunity deal on the grounds that he is the sovereign ruler of the Vatican city-state.  I am reminded of Peter Sellers as royal gamekeeper Telly Bascomb, attempting to invade NYC on behalf of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. 
Anyway, Benedict XV would not have kicked over this hornets' nest unless he was pretty damned sure that the plaintiffs had good reason to drag him into their lawsuit.  I'd like to see Tim Russert deal with this bit of CYA cowardice from the gentleman he called "our" pope.  I'd like to see a response from George Weigel and all the rest of the big media incense-huffers who were so transported by the transparently engineered ascendancy of a career apparatchik into the Chair Of Peter.  And I'd like to see the White House meeting on whether or not to grant the papal request.  Turns out that all those Baptist ministers were right back in 1960 about American presidents taking orders from Papist Rome.  We just had to elect a born-again Methodist for it to happen.


This is the most interesting story of the week?  Well, the former archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, was in the running too.  You recall a few years ago it did look like he would have to face trial for his apparent collusion regarding the child-rape allegations in his diocese - it seemed he may have withheld evidence and made himself an accomplice, before and after the fact.  That would have made this story interesting.  As it is, Law didn't get to be Pope.  Ratzinger did.  So Law keeps his new post-Boston job, a sinecure at the Vatican.  His job is to "supervise priestly discipline," of all things.  And he really ought not return to Boston for a visit. 

What is the new pope up to? He's under no such cloud.  Avoiding embarrassment? Protecting his guys?

Actually, this would present an interesting scene in court.  Does he swear on the Bible to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?  By tradition, he is infallible.  What would be the point?  And what does it matter?  He doesn't have to testify.  He's a head of state and has diplomatic immunity.  It's a moot point.  Secondarily, the court with few exceptions shields priests and such from revealing what was said to them in confession - so if one of these Texan seminarians had said to him, "Gee, Father, you wouldn't believe what I did to those three young boys," he need not reveal that.  He's bulletproof. 

Why make the request of our government for clarification, and let that request become public? That is the puzzling thing here.  It smacks of PR - getting our government to acknowledge, officially and on the record, that the Holy See has more raw power than any government, even the sole superpower on earth, with all its laws and such things.  Bush bows before the pope?  Something like that. 

As for being reminded of Peter Sellers as royal gamekeeper Telly Bascomb, attempting to invade New York on behalf of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, you might want to watch the 1959 movie The Mouse That Roared, although perhaps not.  It's quite dated.  And it hardly applies. 

But Alterman's friend dreams on –


And, more than anything else, I'd like to see the man in the witness chair, if only because the reflexive response of the Vatican and its stateside enablers has been to blame this country's "culture" for the unspeakable crimes of the Church's hired hands.  We had that idiot archbishop comparing the American media coverage to the persecutions of Diocletian.  (Would 'twere that it were.  I know the first person I'd feed to the lions. ) We have Rick Santorum blaming Boston, or Harvard, or both because the people to whom he genuflects cared more about their own jobs than about abused children.  Enough of that.  The scandal flourished because of the centralized control of the Catholic episcopate established by the late John Paul II, currently being fast-tracked to sainthood by the likes of Mary Magdalene Noonan.  The former Cardinal Ratzinger was an important part of that effort.  Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, boys.  And render the pope to a Texas courtroom.


That's not going to happen.  And he's rubbing our face in it. 

As for blaming this country's "culture" for the "unspeakable crimes of the Church's hired hands," Senator Santorum did that.  Bernard Law wasn't the problem, nor were the priests who reported to him.  It was that they were in Boston, and the evil nature of that city made them do it. 

Perhaps you noted this item in the news in July:


Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, refused yesterday to back off on his earlier statements connecting Boston's "liberalism" with the Roman Catholic Church pedophile scandal, saying that the city's "sexual license" and "sexual freedom" nurtured an environment where sexual abuse would occur. 

"The basic liberal attitude in that area …  has an impact on people's behavior," Santorum said in an interview yesterday at the Capitol. 

"If you have a world view that I'm describing [about Boston] …  that affirms alternative views of sexuality, that can lead to a lot of people taking it the wrong way," Santorum said.


A group that calls itself the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests shot back


Abusive clergy and complicit bishops are liberal and conservative.  The crimes they commit have nothing to do with political philosophy.  It is reckless and dangerous to misdiagnose the causes of this horrific crisis by trying to blame any group of individuals, especially using false assumptions and self-serving ideological blinders.  This is a deeply-rooted, long-standing, cultural and structural problem within the church and affects Catholics across the globe.  To suggest anything less is deceptive or ignorant. 

It is very hurtful when a politician tries to minimize the extent of the clergy sex abuse scandal.  It is also very hurtful when a politician implies that some vague, larger societal defects somehow caused priests, nuns and bishops to assault innocent children and vulnerable adults, and then to work hard at keeping the crimes hidden.


Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts added this:


Rick Santorum owes an immediate apology to the tragic, long-suffering victims of sexual abuse and their families in Boston, in Massachusetts, in Pennsylvania and around this country.  His outrageous and offensive comments - which he had the indecency to repeat yesterday - blamed the people of Boston for the depraved behavior of sick individuals who stole the innocence of children in the most horrible way imaginable. 

Senator Santorum has shown a deep and callous insensitivity to the victims and their suffering in an apparent attempt to score political points with some of the most extreme members of the fringe right wing of his Party.  Boston bashing might be in vogue with some Republicans, but Rick Santorum's statements are beyond the pale.


One doubts Santorum will say similar things about Texas.  THAT would be a little too dangerous.  Even the new pope isn't saying that. 

He just wants us to publicly admit there nothing we can make him do about any of this. 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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