Among the many questions asked of John Roberts, "is the Pope immune to lawsuits" was not one of them. If I were a judge, this would be a question I would prefer not to have in front of me, but it is currently in front of a former fellow BakerBottsian and federal district judge Lee Rosenthal. Houston Chronicle article here. Pope Benedict XVI has been named in a lawsuit alleging conspiracy to cover up sexual molestation. The act in question is a 2001 letter referencing a 1962 policy guideline for addressing sexual molestation complaints. Judge Rosenthal will have to determine whether the Pope is a head of a church or the head of a state for immunity purposes. Vatican City was officially recognized by the U.S. in 1984 and the U.S. has an ambassador to the Vatican. I predict "head of state."
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1. Posted by manaen on September 21, 2005 @ 11:24 | Permalink
Somebody tried the next level up. Some 40 years ago, I read about a man injured when something fell on him while he walked by a construction site. His suit was dismissed when the event was determined to be an act of God. He then brought collective suit against 27 local churches as self-proclaimed representatives of the responsible party.
2. Posted by Will Baude on September 21, 2005 @ 12:11 | Permalink
Might it be relevant whether the Pope's alleged actions in the conspiracy were as Head of state or Head of church? Even if he is both, and wears two hats, doesn't Clinton v. Jones imply that he can be sued in his H.o.Church capacity despite the fact that he also runs a country on the side?
3. Posted by Christine Hurt on September 21, 2005 @ 13:36 | Permalink
Will, more questions, no answers -- does it matter that the Pope was a cardinal at the time (and not head o'state?). I remember during the Clinton v. Jones thing people arguing that Clinton should be immune until after his office ended, but I guess that would not help in this case.
4. Posted by Will Baude on September 21, 2005 @ 20:23 | Permalink
Not only does that not help in this case, but of course the people who were arguing that in Clinton v. Jones lost quite handily. So I would think, for example, that if the Queen of England came here and went on a shooting spree that that wouldn't preclude somebody suing her for wrongful death.
The case for U.S. federal courts giving special immunities from the president is far stronger-- I would think-- than the argument for giving immunities to the heads of other states. And since we don't hold our own president immune from conduct not committed in his official capacity, the pope's only defense would be that he had committed his acts in his capacity as head of state.
And since, as you point out, he wasn't head of state at the time he did the alleged acts, this sounds like a knockdown win, on immunity grounds anyway, for the plaintiffs.
Of course, I haven't read any of the relevant legal filings, so maybe they've got something else going on I don't know about.
5. Posted by Shag from Brookline on September 22, 2005 @ 5:38 | Permalink
Now if there were Papal Infallibility, that might be an absolute defense.