Update at bottom: Fox News, other media outlets falsely tar Kagan on Vatican immunity

The Obama administration in a brief to the Supreme Court has backed the Vatican's claim of immunity from lawsuits arising from cases of sexual abuse by priests in the United States.

The Supreme Court is considering an appeal by the Vatican of an appellate court ruling that lifted its immunity in the case of an alleged pedophile priest from Oregon.

In a filing on Friday, the solicitor general's office argued that the Ninth Circuit court of appeals erred in allowing the lawsuit brought by a man who claims he was sexually abused in the 1960s by the Oregon priest.

The unnamed plaintiff, who cited the Holy See and several other parties as defendants, argued the Vatican should be held responsible for transferring the priest to Oregon and letting him serve there despite previous accusations he had abused children in Chicago and in Ireland.

The solicitor general's office, which defends the position of President Barack Obama's administration before the Supreme Court, said the Ninth Circuit improperly found the case to be an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a 1976 federal law that sets limits on when other countries can face lawsuits in US courts.

"Although the decision does not conflict with any decision of another court of appeals, the Court may wish to grant the petition, vacate the judgement of the court of appeals and remand to that court for further consideration".

The case, which was filed in 2002, does not directly address questions raised in a separate lawsuit in Kentucky alleging that US bishops are employees of the Holy See.

But the Vatican plans to argue that Catholic dioceses are run as separate entities from the Holy See, and that the only authority that the pontiff has over bishops around the world is a religious one, according to Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican's US attorney.

In recent months, large-scale pedophilia scandals have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in a number of countries, including Austria, Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI's native Germany and the United States.

Senior clerics have been accused of protecting the priests involved by moving them to other parishes -- where they sometimes offended again -- instead of handing them over to civil authorities for prosecution.

The pope, who has himself faced allegations implicating him in the scandal, has repeatedly said priests and religious workers guilty of child abuse should answer for their crimes in courts of law.

Fox News, other media outlets falsely tar Kagan on Vatican immunity

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it then it's fair to suggest it didn't happen.

However, if media outlets ignore widely reported and key news regarding a Supreme Court nominee -- which should have been assumptive in the first place -- questions of kneejerk bias are bound to emerge.

At the popular Beliefnet website, which Rupert Murdoch's Fox Entertainment Group acquired in late 2007, Nicole Neroulias writes, "Some good news for Pope Benedict: the Obama administration, in a brief filed by Solicitor General and Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, has sided with the Vatican in the 2002 Oregon lawsuit pending SCOTUS review over sex abuse claims, saying that the Holy See has diplomatic immunity."

Kate Shellnut, reporting for The Houston Chronicle-owned Houston Belief (The Chonicle did endorse Obama in 2008, the first Democrat the paper backed since Lyndon Johnson in 1964), writes, "Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, acting as Solicitor General, filed a brief last week granting the Vatican diplomatic immunity over a lawsuit brought against the Roman Catholic Church for sexually abusive priests."

And Fox News reports, "The office, headed by Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, argued that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals -- which lifted the Vatican's immunity in the Oregon priest case -- should not have treated the case as an exception to a 1976 federal law that limits when foreign countries can face charges in the U.S. judicial system."

But Kagan's name doesn't appear anywhere in the brief (pdf link), since she stepped aside over two weeks ago, as the Associated Press noted last week.

Kagan wrote a letter to the Supreme Court on Monday, saying her deputy, Neal Kumar Katyal, will serve as acting solicitor general in light of her nomination.

"I ask that you please address future correspondence from the Court to him, and that the Court's docket sheets reflect his designation as Counsel of Record," Kagan said in a letter to Supreme Court Clerk William Suter.


The solicitor general is the top government lawyer who argues the administration's cases before the Supreme Court.

Katyal's promotion was effective as of May 10, the date President Barack Obama nominated Kagan to the high court as the replacement for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

Of course, if Kagan hadn't been nominated, chances are she would have done the same as Katyal, since both previous presidential administrations sided with the Vatican on similar cases.

In 2005, the Associated Press reported, "The U.S. Justice Department has told a Texas court that a lawsuit accusing Pope Benedict XVI of conspiring to cover up the sexual molestation of three boys by a seminarian should be dismissed because the pontiff enjoys immunity as head of state of the Holy See."

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Peter Keisler said in Monday's filing that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would be "incompatible with the United States' foreign policy interests."

There was no immediate ruling from Judge Lee Rosenthal of the U.S. District Court for the southern district of Texas in Houston. However, U.S. courts have been bound by such "suggestion of immunity" motions submitted by the government, Keisler's filing says.

A 1994 lawsuit against Pope John Paul II (search), also filed in Texas, was dismissed after the U.S. government filed a similar motion.

But blaming Obama's Supreme Court nominee makes for better copy at some outlets, apparently.

(with additional reporting by RAW STORY)