It’s not about the money… well… not just about the money

There was story recently that, mirabile dictu, the Obama administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court backing Holy See’s claim of immunity from a lawsuit brought against an alleged pedophile priest in the United States.

You have to wonder what these lawyers are really after.

There have been various attempts to involve the Vatican/Holy See in criminal or civil litigation on behalf of victims of Catholic clerical sexual abuse of minors. Here I do not intend to deal with the legal/political/diplomatic aspects of these cases, which are being discussed in the media.

Instead, consider the presumptive motive behind lawyers’ attempts to involve the Pope directly in legal cases before US courts.

Opponents of these legal maneuvers charge that the reason lawyers and their clients target the Pope is that the Vatican has "deep pockets" and that the lawyers want access to the Vatican’s money on behalf of their clients.

But is this the only or even the primary reason?

Most people, probably most journalists, don’t know that the Vatican actually has far less money than most major U.S. Catholic archdioceses.

Sure, the Vatican has a lot of art and other treasures. That’s not cash on hand.  Furthermore, the Holy See has signed formal agreements with the UN never to alienate ("sell") its art treasures because they are part of the "patrimony of humankind".  So if lawyers think they can force the Pope to sell the Pietà in order to pay US court judgments, they are living in Cloud Cookoo Land.

But lawyers know this. If lawyers know anything, they know who has money and who doesn’t.  Their firms research the financial holdings of dioceses and religious orders before going after clerical pedophiles.

Conclusion: money isn’t the only reason they are trying to sue the Pope of Rome.

What lawyers probably want (in addition to money) is publicity for their firms and also to score points with liberal, secular society for discrediting the Pope.

They will press the claim that every chain-of-command in the Church leads to him, and that he – the Pope – could personally have stopped the transfer of pedophile priests.  But [cue the DA DA DAAAA music] he didn’t.

Targeting a big media figure (the Pope)  is about feeding the media frenzy. Lawyers count on the media coverage of this story as a Watergate-like drama where the conspiracy is traced from lower-level bishops up to cardinals and finally to the Pope himself.

Law suits directed at the Pope are only partly about the money

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Biased Media Coverage, Clerical Sexual Abuse, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Brian K says:

    To what degree is the Obama administration’s weighing in on the side of the Vatican/USCCB in this case a payback for USCCB support of ObamaCare and immigration reform?

  2. AnAmericanMother says:

    I think somebody in the solicitor general’s office had a sudden attack of legal common sense.

    The diplomatic and legal implications of allowing this sort of liability are profound. It would overturn a great deal of employee/independent contractor law, as well as traditional rules on the liability of foreign states and leaders.

    Almost any foreign corporation (as well as foreign governments) would find itself exposed to liability on the basis of such a decision. It would be economically devastating and make the U.S. a lot of instant enemies. Even the Obama administration can’t swallow that.

  3. AnAmericanMother says:

    For the lawyer who has based his whole career on this sort of lawsuit, it’s not entirely about the money. He’s on a personal crusade. So he wants to hurt the Church as much as possible.

    But, with that said, the notoriety of suing the Pope, from a lawyer’s point of view, is a way of keeping the hysteria rolling so that publicity will bring him more claims and more money. So, ultimately, it’s still about the money.

  4. Re: the UN treaty

    So somebody at the UN saw Shoes of the Fisherman and freaked out? :)

  5. Supertradmum says:

    It is partly about the world, the flesh,and the devil hating the Holy Roman Catholic Church. It is partly about the Pope being vulnerable, as an open, caring world leader who speaks the Truth, and many do not feel comfortable in the face of Truth.God bless our Pope, the Church and the Vatican State.

    Also, in America, there has been a liberal Catholic effort to deny that the Church is an institution, created by Christ, for our salvation. Most people want a toatlyy “spiritual” church, one not seen, not physical, not reflecting the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. A popular Protestant denial of the physical Church of Christ is this persistent teaching of the unseen church, which includes all Christian denominations.

    The Vatican reminds all of the Triumph of the Church over the ages.

    Obama want the Latino Catholic and Dem Catholic vote, as well as the moderate Catholic vote. He is getting desperate for votes. Plus, does it not add to Obama’s shaky lack of experience to seemingly have the Vatican on “his side”?

  6. Legisperitus says:

    “You want the real guy in charge? Sorry, boys, I’m just the Vicar.”

  7. ppb says:

    There’s a common misperception that the Vatican is much bigger, richer, and more powerful (materially speaking) than it actually is. Once I did a little research, and found that in every respect – land area, number of employees, annual budget – the Vatican City-State is a good deal smaller than the mid-size public university where I am employed.

  8. q7swallows says:

    In this context of “suing the Church,” Archbishop Chaput has a clear and succint explanation about Church hierarchy and how it functions here:

  9. mike cliffson says:

    (BTW blessed if i know what sort of commentator I am.Occasionally an angry or a troll, of course.Expat, noone to talk to in English, hardly abt the church, even less.. No, I haven’t got a fish called dorothy. The hamsters are all dead. some of the silkworms are doing fine..)

    Back, ever so slightly, to the point of this post:
    if God and God’s love are in your sights, use attacking the church as a good proxy, which is an honor really, if we’re christ’s bride and body the bride’s immaculateness is eventual, the scourging spittle thorns etc kindanow.

    General point, often from otherwise normal fellowcatholics: sell off the sistine chapel, go live in a cave that perfume wouldve fed two poor families for a year..

    I say one my experience is that you get both: actually genorosity to poor AND beauty for the church AND material blessings all go together.

    Two as per chaput Structure of church etc diffuse,,Vatican near bankrupt shoestring operation especialy since markinkus, richest part of church world wide is Diocese of chicago.

    Fraternal and/ or factual correction pls father if requd.

    BTW. Grandchild far more ok, her parents back at mass after long interval, thanks all prayers but never too many

  10. CeeLee says:

    I think the decentralized/collaborative relationships within the Church is being seen as valuable to dissent, so a rush to “top down” insistence is counterproductive to some agendas.

  11. rakesvines says:

    Getting free exposure is money – advertising & promotion. Obama’s stepping in – same thing. Never letting a crisis go to waste. So now, he tries to woo Catholics by saving our Pope because November is almost here. Besides, the case does not have a leg to stand on so, might as well capitalize on it. I guess he now expects us to tone down our rhetoric about Obamacare in return for his favor.

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