Lawyers Want to Question Vatican Official!


Dec 16, 2005, 8:40 PM EST 

Associated Press Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Attorneys for alleged victims of sex abuse asked a federal judge Friday to let them question a top-ranking Vatican official about a church doctrine that might permit him to lie under oath.

Archbishop William Levada, the San Francisco prelate who earlier this year became the Vatican's guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy, has agreed to be questioned during a Jan. 9 deposition about his tenure as archbishop of Portland from 1986 to 1995.

Attorneys for the victims want to ask Levada whether he would rely on the so-called doctrine of "mental reservation" when answering questions at the deposition in San Francisco.

The Catholic church teaches it is a sin to lie, but the doctrine of mental reservation allows for circumstances when it may be better to avoid the truth to serve a higher purpose.

Kelly Clark, an attorney for several victims, said the deposition could put Levada in the position of balancing his answers between the requirements of federal law and his moral obligations under church doctrine.

"By being a moral matter, does it trump his civil oath?" Clark asked bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris, who is setting the ground rules for the deposition as part of the bankruptcy case the archdiocese filed last year to deal with clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

"I just do not want to be precluded from asking, 'Did you use mental reservation in answering any part of that question?'" Clark said.

The deposition is believed to be the first time a high-ranking Vatican official has faced such questioning.

Vatican attorney Jeffrey Lena said the archbishop's civil oath should be sufficient to ensure honest answers.

"It's not necessary to inquire whether there is a personal philosophy that causes him to lie," Lena said. "We can just rely on the oath to tell the truth."

The judge said she expected Levada to be questioned at length about his tenure in Portland but did not want to get into questions about religious philosophy.

"I don't have a problem with, 'What did you know, what did you do, and why did you do it?'" the judge said.

The Portland archdiocese was the first in the nation to declare bankruptcy when it filed for protection from creditors in July 2004, just before the scheduled start of jury trials for victims seeking more than $155 million in damages.

Levada had been the archbishop in San Francisco before Pope Benedict XVI named him to take over the pontiff's old job as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican. The prefect is responsible for protecting church teachings and for reviewing all sex abuse claims against clergy.

The Portland archdiocese has offered to settle all outstanding claims for about $42 million to end the bankruptcy, subject to the approval of the judge and the victims, who could offer their own settlement plan.

The judge is expected to rule before the end of the year.

2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.