When U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the Vatican last month, her counterpart, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, asked her to intervene in a Louisville, Ky., law suit that seeks to hold the Vatican financially responsible for the sexual abuse of minors, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Sodano asked whether the government could stop the class-action lawsuit in federal court in Louisville. Rice explained that under American law, foreign states are required to assert claims of sovereign immunity themselves before U.S. courts.
Lawsuits against the Vatican in American courts are a long shot. At least two dozen previous attempts have gone nowhere because the Vatican is a sovereign state and because American courts are reluctant to deal with religious matters on First Amendment grounds. Yet Sodano’s request suggests concern in Rome that sooner or later its immunity may give way, exposing the Vatican to potentially crippling verdicts. The Louisville attorney who filed the class-action suit said billions of dollars would be needed to compensate all the victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy in the United States.