The plaintiff was identified only as John Doe 16, an Illinois man who said he was sexually abused by the Rev. Lawrence Murphy at St. John's School for the Deaf in a suburb of Milwaukee. The lawsuit asks that the Vatican be forced to release secret files with the names of clergy sex abusers and set up a system under which the court could monitor its compliance for 10 years. It also seeks unspecified monetary damages.
"Had Plaintiff or his family known what the Defendant Holy See knew -- that Lawrence Murphy was a suspected child molester and a danger to children before Plaintiff was first molested by Murphy, Plaintiff would not have been sexually molested," the lawsuit says, asserting that Murphy solicited sex from the child in the confessional.
However, an American attorney for the Vatican said in a statement that the lawsuit is without merit, saying the Vatican did not know anything about the charges until decades later.
Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena said the lawsuit "is simply the latest attempt by certain U.S. lawyers to use the judicial process as a tool of media relations," according to The Associated Press.
The lawsuit does not state what years the abuse took place. Murphy, who taught at the school from 1950 through 1974, died in 1998. He is accused of sexually abusing about 200 boys. His case made national headlines again recently after documents were released showing that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, knew about the abuse allegations and protected him from being removed from the clergy.
The lawsuit also names Vatican official Cardinal Angelo Sodano, saying the plaintiff wrote a letter to him reporting the abuse and asking for help. The lawsuit says another Vatican official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, also was informed of the abuse -- and "each came to the decision to intentionally conceal and cover up" the information about Murphy.
A March 1995 letter to Sodano, which was released with the lawsuit, reads: "I am sure that Pope John Paul II knows of many priests who have molested hearing children in America, but I want you to tell my story to him: that priests have molested DEAF children, too. These children lived in dormitories with no chance for escape. I am one of them." The victim said he was including copies of letters he had written to Lawrence with the letter to Sodano, which was delivered by certified mail.
The letter to Murphy, apparently included in the package and dated February 12, 1995 reads: "Every time I see other priests I wonder: 'Are they molesters, too?' They always remind me of you; a clever wolf, a mortal sinner, a heavy luster who walked among us every night in the Catholic dorm. We couldn't even hear you coming. "
Bertone was Ratzinger's deputy at the time of the investigation and is now the Vatican's secretary of state. The lawsuit was filed by Jeff Anderson, the Minneapolis lawyer representing church victims in Milwaukee and around the country.
Just before delivering the papers to court, Peter Isely, Midwest director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the plaintiff could sue the Vatican because it is a foreign government that has extensive "commercial enterprises" in the United States and its "policies and practices" harm U.S. citizens, thus nullifying its diplomatic immunity.
The Vatican also was sued in Kentucky in 2004 by three men who said they were abused by priests and accused Vatican officials of negligence for failing to alert police or the pubilc about priests who molested children there. That case is pending. And an appelate court in Oregon has allowed a case against the Vatican there to proceed; the Vatican has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal in that case.
"The pope is undoubtedly a nice man. I don't think the victims have an issue with the pope himself as a person," Isely said at a news conference outside the federal courthouse. "The problem is with this system. The pope and his cardinals and his bishops are all part of this system, this government ... that requires them to hide child molesters."
Isely was joined at the news conference by a deaf man who was among Murphy's child victims.
Arthur Budzinski said he was there to speak on behalf of his "fellow deaf students who were raped." He has said he was sexually abused by Murphy in the confessional when he was a 12-year-old student at St. John's, and again in a secluded school stairway. His daughter said Budzinski was awarded $80,000 in 2006 from a fund established to compensate clergy abuse victims.
"Father Murphy may have stolen our bodies," Budzinski said in sign language as his daughter translated, "but the archbishop, the cardinals and the pope stole our voices."