Pope cannot be called to testify at trial, says Vatican


POPE BENEDICT XVI cannot be called to testify at any trial including one involving clerical child sex abuse because he has immunity from prosecution as a head of state, the Vatican’s most senior legal official has said.

The pope “has [spiritual] primacy over the church . . . but every bishop is legally responsible for running a diocese”, head of the Vatican’s legal offices Giuseppe Dalla Torre said.

Meanwhile the New York Timeshas been severely criticised by Rome for its reports suggesting the pope did not handle allegations of clerical child sex abuse properly in the years preceding his elevation to the papacy.

Yesterday Pope Benedict celebrated the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass in St Peter’s Basilica but did not refer in his homily to the crisis in the church over child sex abuse revelations and widespread allegations of cover-up.

In Italy’s Corriere della Seranewspaper, Mr Dalla Torre said “the pope is certainly a head of state, who has the same juridical status as all heads of state”, meaning he has immunity before foreign courts.

More than 170 countries have diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

Mr Dalla Torre added, “the church is not a multinational corporation”.

He rejected suggestions that Vatican documents in 1962 and 2001 encouraged bishops not to report cases to civil authorities. “There is nothing that prohibited anyone [in the church] from giving information to civil authorities,” he said.

The Vatican has been heavily critical of the New York Times for recent reports on the pope and how he dealt with abuse cases before his election to the papacy.

It has posted a lengthy statement on its website by Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He asked the newspaper “to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on”.

The Vatican has denied any cover-up over the abuse of 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin, USA, by Fr Lawrence Murphy from 1950 to 1974. The New York Timesreported that the Vatican and then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now pope, were warned about Fr Murphy but that he was not defrocked. The newspaper said its reports were “based on meticulous reporting and documents”.

However, a priest who took part in the canonical trial of Fr Murphy in the mid-1990s has also attacked the New York Timesand other media for attributing to him quotes he did not make.

Fr Thomas Brundage, who presided over Fr Murphy’s trial, said the fact he had “never once been contacted by any news organisation . . . speaks for itself”. He said “my name and comments in the matter of the Fr Murphy case have been . . . often inaccurately quoted in the New York Timesand in more than 100 other newspapers and online periodicals”.