Assistant U.S. Attorney General Peter Keisler said in Monday's filing that, as pope, Benedict enjoys immunity as the head of a state — the Vatican. He said that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would be "incompatible with the United States' foreign policy interests."
There was no immediate ruling from Judge Lee Rosenthal of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston, who has been presiding over the case. However, the Supreme Court has held that U.S. courts are bound by such "suggestion of immunity" motions submitted by the government, Keisler's filing says.
In fact, a 1994 lawsuit against Pope John Paul II, also filed in Texas, was dismissed after the U.S. government filed a similar motion.
The Vatican Embassy in Washington had asked the U.S. government to issue the immunity suggestion and do everything it could to get the case dismissed. As a result, Keisler's motion was not unexpected.
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was named as a defendant in a lawsuit by three boys who allege that a Colombian-born seminarian on assignment at St. Francis de Sales church in Houston, Juan Carlos Patino-Arango, molested them during counseling sessions in the church in the mid-1990s.
Many lawsuits stemming from the U.S. church sex abuse crisis have named the pope, the Vatican and other high-ranking church officials, but they failed because the officials could never be served with the papers. This case got further than most recent ones because Ratzinger was actually served with the documents.
Patino-Arango has been indicted in a criminal case by a Harris County, Texas, grand jury and is a fugitive from justice.