Imagine if a BMW dealer in Oregon were discovered to be a serial child rapist. This would not necessarily reflect badly on his employer — not on the multinational parent company, run by a Bavarian, or on its U.S. subsidiary, or on his local dealership. But now imagine that, over the span of a many years, dozens of BMW dealers were discovered to be serial child rapists, and officers at corporate headquarters just kept reassigning them to different dealerships. Why, you might say that the said multinational parent company would be legally liable for this behavior! The Catholic Church, of course, has argued that it is no mere sordid auto manufacturer and thus this logic doesn’t apply to them, but the Supreme Court has decided that, you know, maybe it does, after all!
Did you know that, long ago, the Popes used to be actual princes, ruling a real country that took up the middle third of Italy and had millions of inhabitants? Once Italy was unified and the church dispossessed of this political power, the popes literally went into their palace compound to sulk for fifty years, until Mussolini and the rest of the world finally agreed to pretend that the pope’s palace — an area literally smaller than the Pentagon, and with no actual native inhabitants of any sort — was an “independent country.” The popes wanted this real bad, to guard against exactly the situation the church finds itself in now — not specifically to hide from accusations of raping little boys, but more generally to be free from any possibility of being held accountable by the earthly laws of any nation. The pope is a head of state! The church is a country! You can’t put a head of state on trial, unless he loses a war! And who’s going to fight a war against the pope? It would be unseemly.
This “sovereign immunity” defense was one argument that the Church tried to use to claim that it couldn’t be sued for the abuse perpetrated by the Rev. Andrew Ronan in Seattle in the 1960s. Ronan had been transferred (notice the use of the passive voice here — WHO COULD HAVE TRANSFERRED HIM, HMMM?) from Ireland to Chicago and then to Seattle, for the reasons that priests generally get transferred. Another argument the God-lawyers used was that priests don’t really work for the Vatican, but rather for their local diocese, which is totally independent from the church headquarters in all ways, and they can do whatever they want, really. In fact, the church argued that they didn’t even know this Ronan guy existed, until after reading about all his sex abuses in the papers! How can they be expected to keep track of all this stuff?
Yesterday, the Supreme Court, which is two-thirds Catholic, declined to block the lawsuit over the church’s responsibility for Ronan’s abuse. Everyone is going to sue the pope now. It is going to be awesome. [AP]