January 9, 2006

Top Vatican official testifies in US sex abuse case

By Adam Tanner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - One of the Vatican's highest
officials gave a legal deposition behind closed doors on Monday
in the priest sex scandal that prompted the Catholic
archdiocese in Portland, Oregon, to declare bankruptcy.

William Levada, the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer, was
Archbishop of Portland from 1986-1995, and it is in that
capacity he was subpoenaed to provide testimony on sex abuses
of children by priests.

"We expect to find out what he knows and when he knew it,"
Michael Morey, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told
reporters as he headed into a deposition by lawyers, which
could last all day.

Although the Roman Catholic Church has faced lawsuits
alleging abuses across the United States, the Archdiocese of
Portland was the first to seek bankruptcy protection from
creditors. Since then the archdioceses in Spokane, Washington,
and Tucson, Arizona, have also filed for bankruptcy.

Dressed in a suit, Levada went to a central San Francisco
office building for the deposition. Eyewitnesses said he
avoided a few protesters by using a side door.

As he entered the building, one man served him a subpoena
to testify in another sex abuse case, said Joe Piscatelli, Bay
Area coordinator for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests.

"He is in charge of the sexually abusive priests," he said.
"He's second to the Pope now and he hasn't been doing his job
on getting rid of them. Instead he's been protecting them."

Levada succeeded Pope Benedict as prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when then-Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger was elected to lead the Roman Catholic Church.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco did not
return calls for comment.

Levada has apologized to the victims, saying last year: "I
again express to these victims, and all other victims of the
clergy child abuse scandals, my sincere apology for the pain
they have endured."


A U.S. bankruptcy judge handed the Portland archdiocese a
major setback in the 18-month-old bankruptcy case, by ruling on
December 30 that the assets of its parishes and schools were
controlled by the archdiocese and thus available to pay abuse
and other claims.

The archdiocese had argued that parish and school assets
could not be tapped because it did not control them.

"Our attorneys believe that the various aspects of the
ruling will not stand up under eventual review by higher
courts," Portland Archbishop John Vlanzy wrote last week.

There are about 150 related sex abuse cases yet to be
resolved, said David Slader, an attorney for 12 sex abuse

The cases will likely be sent back to the courts and
assigned trial dates. Attempts to solve them through mediation
were "a dismal failure," Slader said.

From the 1950s to 2003, the Archdiocese of Portland paid
about $53 million on 130 claims of sex abuse by clergy,
archdiocese spokesman Bud Bunce said.

Some current cases will likely be settled before they reach
trial. The archdiocese has about $100 million in investments
and accounts that could be used to settle. The archdiocese has
proposed a $40 million bankruptcy settlement plan, but that was
declined by plaintiffs' attorneys.

(Additional reporting by Teresa Carson in Portland)