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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Holy See v. John Doe

I've been following the Oregon sex abuse case (John V. Doe v. Holy See) in which the plaintiff asserts that priests/bishops are employees of the Vatican, a way around The Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act. That act prevents US courts from even hearing a a case against a sovereign state, but a sovereign state can lose its immunity through the Tort Exception if one of the sovereign state's employees has caused harm to someone in the US. The Vatican appealed to the Supreme Court (Holy See v. Doe) to dismiss the suit due to the Holy See's sovereign state immunity, but the Supremes declined to hear that appeal. Now arguments will proceed in the Oregon court, with the plaintiffs trying to prove the Vatican is indeed an employer.

It's a long shot that the court will rule the pope can be deposed, and even if it did, there would actually be no way to enforce that and I think there's not an ice cube's chance in hell that the pope would volunteer to give testimony. So is this all meaningless? I don't think so, I think it's a sign of changing perspective. Here's a bit from a news story on the subject ....

[...] Steve Rubino, a New Jersey attorney who has represented abuse victims since the 1980s, argued that the court could react differently now that the scope of clergy sex abuse is better known. The case against the Vatican is proceeding as European churches, Vatican officials and Pope Benedict XVI are engulfed by the latest crises over clergy sex abuse. Rubino said that when he first took up abuse cases, diocesan attorneys often won by arguing that First Amendment religious freedom protections meant that civil courts could not interfere in church business. That approach rarely works any more. "The world has been affected by a slow realization of the depth of the scandal," Rubino said. "Judges react the same way. People are tired of this."


Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Hi Crystal --

I've been following this case too; Oregon's our southern neighbor. And I agree about that ice cube's slim chances.'s very interesting that the Supreme Court declined to dismiss the suit on the sovereignty grounds, before the case is heard.

I'm especially looking forward to the arguments about whether priests and bishops are employees of the Vatican. Seems to me that if they can be defrocked, well, there's some very real kind of authority there which holds them accountable.

In spite of that, though, as a deacon I've never thought of myself as an employee of the Vatican; most priests probably don't either. But I could see where bishops might!

10:41 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Denny,

I wonder if the fact that many of the Supreme Court justices are Catholic had anything to do with them letting it go? It is interesting that they decided not to address it, even after the US (Kagan, I think) spoke up on the Vatican's side in the case.

Yeah, I bet most deacons/priests don't feel like employees but maybe as you say, the bishops do, and they're the ones thought responsible for the covering up.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

I never thought about that aspect -- the catholicity of the Supremes! That's an intriguing thought...

10:56 PM  

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