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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Sex Abuse Crisis: Can You Sue The Vatican?

May 17, 2010 - 10:27 AM | by: Greg Burke

The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has triggered an interesting legal question: can you put the Vatican on trial in the United States?

Lawyers for victims in Louisville, Kentucky are trying to do just that. But the Vatican is shooting right back, filing defense motions today arguing that bishops based in the U.S. – who have direct responsibility for their priests – are not “employees” of the Vatican.

I spoke Judge Andrew Napolitano, Senior Judicial Analyst for Fox News Channel, and he told me there’s no evidence that American bishops are agents of the Vatican with respect to personnel matters.

More importantly, Judge Napolitano said, the Vatican is a sovereign state, which means it’s protected.

“International law and American federal law insulate sovereign countries from lawsuits anywhere, except where the sovereign countries have consented to be sued,” Napolitano said. The only countries to which the Vatican has given that consent are Italy and Vatican City itself.

Lawyers for plaintiffs have collected nearly $3 billion from Catholic dioceses in sex abuse cases across the country. The Catholic Church has what lawyers like to dig into: deep pockets.

So why try to put the Vatican in the dock? Maybe the lawyers try to do it for the deep pockets, but it also gets a lot of press. It hasn’t happened yet, so every attempt keeps people talking.

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