The other day, I happened to hear about this story on the radio. In brief: the Catholic Church is being sued in Texas over a pedophile priest. One aspect of the suit is a Vatican policy that such matters should be kept quiet and handled by the Church. The author of this policy (which was sent out worldwide) was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and the plaintiffs would like him to come testify about it. The catch is that Cardinal Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI, and as such is a head of state and has diplomatic immunity.
The hosts of the show had an interesting observation. According to the Bill Clinton/Paula Jones precedent, a head of state can be sued while in office for matters that occurred before they took office. I dunno how this would apply to a foreign head of state, however.
But it brings up an interesting point. We here in the US have a clear separation of Church and State. But in the case of the Vatican, the Church IS the State. How does the United States deal with such a confluence? (And we do have to deal with it, because the Vatican is NOT about to change its ways to suit our principles.)
When the pedophile priest sex scandal heated up in Boston, the thoroughly despicable Cardinal Law resigned from leading the archdiocese of Boston and was recalled to Rome. He kept a low profile for a while, but was given a prominent role in the mourning of the death of Pope John Paul II. Law’s case, along with a few other cases of pedophile priests being transferred out of the United States, brought up the question of whether or not members of the clergy (especially high-ranking officials such as Law) could claim dipomatic immunity through their ties to the Vatican.
I think I have a simple solution. If the Vatican wishes its higher officials to enjoy diplomatic privilege, let them declare so in advance. Let them specify which members are entitled to such protection by issuing them diplomatic passports and other forms of identification.
But any American who accepts this should be required to register with the State Department as agents of a foreign government. They are publicly pledging their service to an independent nation outside the United States, representing that nation’s interests and acting on their behalf.
I know it’s an unprecedented notion, but the Vatican presents a unique situation. And it will clarify and extend the formal relationship between the United States and the Vatican, in the spirit of when Ronald Reagan first gave diplomatic recognition and appointed an ambassador back in 1984.