, WASHINGTON, Apr 1 – A US lawyer has gone to court seeking to have Pope Benedict XVI questioned over the child sex scandal that is rocking the Roman Catholic church, the attorney told AFP Wednesday.
Lawyer William McMurry filed a motion in a Kentucky court Tuesday seeking to take sworn testimony from the pope on what the Vatican knew about the long-running scandal of predator priests.
The motion, a copy of which was sent to AFP, says Benedict was aware of clergy sex abuse in the United States and that he "discouraged prosecution of accused clergy and encouraged secrecy to protect the reputation of the Church" in the 24 years that he led the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
"That organization was responsible for screening these cases dealing with complaints by US bishops about their various abusive priests in various dioceses," McMurry told AFP.
The motion says documents released last week by the New York Times "unequivocally link Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, to child sexual abuse cases in the United States.
"These documents directly implicate Pope Benedict XVI\’s involvement in the Holy See\’s decision to cast a shroud of secrecy over clergy sexual abuse cases in the United States," it says.
The New York Times published several letters and other documents which indicated that, when he was head of the CDF, Benedict was informed of the case of a serial pedophile priest called Father Lawrence Murphy, who is accused of molesting up to 200 boys at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin.
Since the Times story broke, several other clergy sex abuse victims and their lawyers have come forward and claimed that, when he was head of the CDF, the pope was informed about predator priests who molested them, but did nothing to stop the abuse.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi last week admitted that recent media coverage of the scandal "without doubt caused damage."
But, he added, the scandal would not weaken the pope\’s commitment to tackle the problem of sex abuse against minors.
As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger initiated a decree issued by Pope John Paul II in 2001 ordering bishops to report abuse cases to the Vatican and remove abusers from contact with youth.
On Tuesday, Archbishop of Milwaukee Jerome Listecki came to the pope\’s defense, saying Benedict has "been firm in his commitment to combat clergy sexual abuse; root it out of the Church; reach out to those who have been harmed; and hold perpetrators accountable.
"I believe, and history will confirm, that his actions in responding to this crisis, swiftly and decisively, and his compassionate response to victims/survivors, speak for themselves," Listecki said at Chrism mass, where priests renew the commitments they made at their ordination.
The motion filed by McMurray follows on from a lawsuit filed in 2004 by three men who allege they were abused by priests in Kentucky starting as far back as 1928.
The Vatican tried to get that case dismissed, but a judge ruled in 2007 that it should go ahead and ordered "discovery" to begin — when both sides request information and documents from the other side, using tools including questioning of witnesses, to try to "discover" pertinent facts.