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Vatican, Pope served in sexual abuse case

A major lawsuit alleging sexual abuse against a priest and a cover up by church leaders has cleared a significant obstacle. Serving a lawsuit against a defendant is a necessary step in moving litigation forward. The lawsuit named Pope Benedict XVI and other church leaders in the Vatican as defendants, but it has been delayed and hindered by the fact that the plaintiff could not serve the lawsuit against them.

The lawsuit alleges sexual abuse in the 1960s by a priest who worked at a school for deaf children. It was initially filed about a year ago, but previous attempts to serve the defendants were unsuccessful despite the fact that a federal judge requested that the Vatican cooperate in the serving of court papers.

In January, the attorney for the plaintiff attempted to serve the defendants at the Vatican's office of the Advisor for General Affairs, but the court papers were returned via Federal Express. The Vatican responded that the lawsuit should be served through diplomatic channels because the Vatican is a foreign state.

Now, the Vatican has been served with the lawsuit through official diplomatic channels. The Vatican's attorneys are now evaluating the papers to see if they meet the service requirements of U.S. law.

The lawsuit alleges that a now deceased priest, Lawrence Murphy, molested the plaintiff and other boys in the 1960s. The lawsuit alleges that Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, and other church leaders conspired to keep allegations of abuse quiet for years. In 1996, the Vatican's disciplinary office, led by then Cardinal Ratzinger, received a complaint about Murphy's abuse from the local Archbishop.

The office initially ordered the Archbishop to hold disciplinary proceedings against Murphy, but it later reversed that decision citing Murphy's advanced age and poor health.

The Vatican's position is that it is not responsible for sexual abuse committed by clergy and that local Bishops are responsible for disciplining priests. If this case moves forward, it could put the Vatican's theory to the test.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Vatican served with court papers in Wis. abuse case," 4/13/2011

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