The US government, through the Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler, has told a Texas court that Pope Benedict XVI should be given immunity from a lawsuit accusing him of conspiring to cover up the sexual molestation of three boys by a seminarian, court documents show.
Assistant US Attorney General Peter Keisler said in Monday's filing that, as pope, Benedict enjoys immunity as the head of a state - the Vatican. Allowing the lawsuit to proceed would be "incompatible with the United States' foreign policy interests" he said.
There was no immediate ruling from Judge Lee Rosenthal of the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston, who has been presiding over the case. However, the Supreme Court has held that US 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 US government filed a similar motion.
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was named as a defendant in a civil 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.
Daniel Shea, lawyer for one of the three boys, has said that if the pope is granted immunity, he would challenge the constitutionality of the US diplomatic recognition of the Holy See on the grounds that it goes against the First Amendment's "establishment clause" that bars any laws respecting the establishment of religion.
However, legal experts said such a challenge would be difficult to win, in part because previous challenges have failed and because the United States has maintained diplomatic relations with the Vatican since 1984.