Church is structured like a modern corporation with the pope as
the CEO and the bishops as vice presidents.” Kennedy contends
that church structure is more decentralized, particularly in the
U.S., where bishops govern with relative autonomy. Prior to
2003, says Kennedy, bishops weren’t even required to report
sexual abuse to the CDF. One exception was priests who used the
confessional to solicit for sex, which constituted an abuse of the
sacrament of reconciliation.
What’s more, the Holy See is a sovereign city-state. Therefore
the Catholic Church is protected from U.S. lawsuits under the
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) of 1976.
The court adopted the tort exception to the FSIA, allowing
Anderson to proceed and sue the Holy See in 2002 on behalf of
an Oregon man. Anderson’s client alleges the church knew about
the behavior of his abuser, Rev. Andrew Ronan, who was moved
from Ireland to Chicago to Portland during the 1950s and ’60s. The
Catholic Church challenged Anderson’s suit, arguing its immunity
to U.S. law under FSIA. After an appeals process, the U.S. Supreme
Court green-lighted Anderson’s suit in 2010.
In April 2011, Anderson served the Vatican with court papers
again, but only after making an astounding discovery in another
case. From 1950 to 1974, Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy may have
molested upward of 200 boys at St. John’s School for the Deaf in St.
Francis, Wis. Murphy attacked at least one boy in the confessional—
an abuse of the sacraments. He was suffering from old age and ill
health in 1996, when the Milwaukee Archbishop wrote to Cardinal
Ratzinger, the future pope, urging a canonical trial and the eventual
defrocking of the pedophilic priest. But Rev. Murphy penned his own
letter to Ratzinger in 1998, after which investigations were called off
before Murphy’s death later that year. He died still a priest. One of
Anderson’s staff attorneys discovered Murphy’s letter in March 2010.
It’s too soon to tell whether Anderson’s legal crusade will
reach the Vatican. What’s certain is the attorney’s impact on the
American Catholic Church. In response to legal pressures, U.S.
bishops recently announced a zero-tolerance policy for clergy
engaging in sexual misconduct with minors. “If anybody ever writes
a history on all this, Jeff will go down as a pre-eminent figure,” says
Shupe, the sociologist.
Anderson and Keenan, the client, used the identical phrase to
characterize church reforms: “smoke and mirrors.” “We see them
changing on the surface,” says Anderson. “But until these secrets
are revealed on a global level, I remain deeply concerned.”
Anderson has already taken on cases in Australia, Brussels,
Belgium and Mexico (immigration officials in the latter famously
booted Anderson out of the country in 2006). Anderson recently
opened an office in London and hired a barrister in Ireland.
Yet, the crusader remains most optimistic about his efforts via
the American judiciary. “Our U.S. system is more transparent.
Individuals who’ve been oppressed or wronged have better access
to justice and truth,” he says. “Here, we have the ability to expose
things like in no other country.”
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JEFF ANDERSON ON THE CASE
AGAINST THE CATHOLIC CHURCH