REUTERS, April 1, 2010
Legal official: Benedict does not have to testify because he is head of state
VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict, accused by victims’ lawyers of being ultimately responsible for a cover-up of sexual abuse of children by priests, cannot be called to testify at any trial because he has immunity as a head of state, a top Vatican legal official said on Thursday.
The interview with Giuseppe dalla Torre, head of the Vatican’s tribunal, was published in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper as Pope Benedict began Holy Thursday services in St Peter’s Basilica and Catholics marked the most solemn week of the liturgical calendar, culminating on Sunday in Easter Day.
The pope did not refer in his sermon to the crisis of confidence sweeping the Church as almost daily revelations surface of sexual abuse of children in the past, accompanied by allegations of a cover-up.
Dalla Torre outlined the Vatican’s strategy to defend the pope from being forced to testify in several lawsuits concerning sexual abuse which are currently moving through the U.S. legal system.
“The pope is certainly a head of state, who has the same juridical status as all heads of state,” he said, arguing he therefore had immunity from foreign courts.
Lawyers representing victims of sexual abuse by priests in several cases in the United States have said they would want the pope to testify in an attempt to try to prove the Vatican was negligent.
But the pope is protected by diplomatic immunity because more than 170 countries, including the United States, have diplomatic relations with the Vatican. They recognize it as a sovereign state and the pope as its sovereign head.
Dalla Torre rejected suggestions that U.S. bishops, some of whom have been accused of moving molesters from parish to parish instead of turning them in to police, could be considered Vatican employees, making their “boss” ultimately responsible.