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Lawyer For Wis. Accuser: Vatican Rejected Lawsuit

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The attorney for a man who says he was sexually abused decades ago by a now-deceased priest at a Wisconsin school for the deaf says the Vatican has refused to be served with a lawsuit over the matter.

St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who frequently clashes with the Catholic hierarchy over abuse allegations, said Monday that representatives of his office served the lawsuit late last week at the Vatican's office of the Assessor for General Affairs, but that it was returned via Federal Express.

Anderson's client is Terry Kohut, a 61-year-old deaf man from Chicago who alleges the late Rev. Lawrence Murphy molested him for several years starting around 1960 while Murphy worked at a Milwaukee-area school for the deaf. The lawsuit names as defendants the Holy See itself as well as Pope Benedict and two other top cardinals, contending they conspired to keep quiet decades of abuse allegations against Murphy.

Anderson told The Associated Press Monday that the Vatican's decision to reject the suit amounted to "thumbing their nose at the judicial process and rubbing salt in the wounds of abuse survivors." He planned to read a statement from Kohut at a Monday press conference.

Jeffrey Lena, the U.S.-based attorney for the Vatican, said in an e-mail that the lawsuit should have been served through diplomatic channels as would be done with any foreign state. He called Anderson's news conference "grandstanding."

"The foreign state is perfectly within its rights under U.S. law to reject that form of service so that service by diplomatic assistance is employed," Lena wrote.

In October, a U.S. federal judge asked the Vatican to cooperate in the serving of court papers to the Holy See, the pope and two other Vatican officials, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

The Vatican is not obliged to comply with such requests. But Anderson said doing so would have signaled the Vatican is willing to cooperate in moving the case along.

"It can be done exactly the way we did it and they are the ones choosing to delay it and to drag it out," Anderson said.

Murphy, who died in 1998, has been alleged to have sexually abuse some 200 boys at the deaf school from 1950 to 1974. In 1996, Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland complained about Murphy in a letter to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the powerful Vatican office led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1981 until he became pope in 2005.

That office initially ordered Weakland to hold a canonical trial against Murphy in 1997, but later changed course after a letter from Murphy. The Vatican noted Murphy's advanced age, failing health and lack of further allegations.

Kohut himself wrote two letters to Sodano in 1995, reporting he had been abused by Murphy and asking for help.

Anderson has filed several more lawsuits stemming from allegations against Murphy and said he is in talks with numerous other potential accusers. Kohut's lawsuit contends he "continues to suffer great pain of mind and body, shock, emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, disgrace, humiliation and loss of enjoyment of life" - as well as years of lost job income and bills for medical and psychological treatment.

The Vatican argues it's not liable for clerical sex-abuse cases under canon law and a church structure that holds bishops - and not Rome - responsible for disciplining pedophile priests.

Plaintiffs in a similar case in Oregon have sued the Vatican using a similar approach. Anderson represents clients in that proceeding as well, and on numerous occasions has expressed a desire to hold prominent Vatican leaders liable for sexual abuse by priests.

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