In a statement released by the Holy See's Press Office on Friday, the Vatican's lawyer in the U.S., Jeffrey Lena, states that a recent lawsuit against the Holy See regarding an abusive priest from Wisconsin is not legitimate. The case does, however, show an attempt by "certain U.S. lawyers" to take advantage of the judiciary for media relations, he argues.
The declaration from the lawyer comes after the filing of a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District Court of Milwaukee, naming the Vatican as a defendant in a case about abuses committed by Fr. Lawrence Murphy. The Wisconsin priest, who sexually abused hundreds of minors between 1950 and 1974 at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, died in 1998.
Lena responds in the statement released on Friday, "first and foremost, sympathy is due to the victims of the criminal acts committed by Fr. Lawrence Murphy. By sexually abusing children, Murphy violated both the law and the trust that his victims had placed in him."
Stating that there have been "legitimate lawsuits" filed by victims of abuse in the past, Lena underscores, "this is not one of them."
He calls John Doe 16 vs. Holy See "an attempt to use tragic events as a platform for a broader attack," and says that this specific case is "one dependent on re-characterizing the Catholic Church as a worldwide 'business enterprise.'"
The lawsuit alleges that the Vatican had known about complaints against Fr. Murphy since 1995, that its secrecy perpetuated further cases, and that, as the Church's supreme authority, it was responsible for the decisions of Wisconsin bishops regarding Fr. Murphy.
The suit seeks monetary damages as well as the release of Vatican files concerning sexually abusive priests.
But Lena charges that the lawsuit is "completely without merit," as it "rehashes old theories already rejected by U.S. courts."
As for the involvement of the Holy See in the case, the Vatican's lawyer says that it had "no role whatsoever in causing plaintiff's injuries," having not known about the cases "until decades after the abuse occurred."
This lawsuit, he writes, is "simply the latest attempt by certain U.S. lawyers to use the judicial process as a tool of media relations."
The lawsuit is being brought by the St. Paul, Minn.-based lawyer Jeff Anderson, who has made millions off of suing the Catholic Church in the United States. In 2002 Anderson told the Associated Press that he had won more than $60 million in settlements from the Church.