If the Pope is Infallible, why does he need Lawyers?

Author:Bill Piatt
Position::Professor of law and former Dean (1998?2007), St. Mary's University School of Law. I would like to thank my research assistants, Sean Cohen and Jonathan Greiner. I would also like to thank Maria Vega for her clerical and technical assistance.
Pages:555-584
SUMMARY

While the Catholic Church is no longer under direct physical attack, contemporaneous efforts seek to hold the Pope and the Church civilly and criminally liable in various contexts. Most recently, sexual abuse allegations prompted domestic and international attempts to hold the Pope and his Church accountable to civil authorities. Papal infallibility offers no insulation from these attempts. Under ... (see full summary)

 
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IF THE POPE IS INFALLIBLE, WHY DOES HE NEED
LAWYERS?
BILL PIATT
“The Pope is not an oracle.” Pope Benedict XVI1
I. INTRODUCTION
One of the most widely misunderstood teachings of the Catholic Church
involves the doctrine of papal infallibility.2 As a theological matter, papal
infallibility is quite narrow. It does not mean the Pope cannot sin.3 It does
not mean the Pope cannot make errors in his administration of the Church.
It does not mean the Pope cannot err during ordinary discussions of
theological matters.4 The widespread misconception that all Catholics must
believe their Pope cannot make mistakes helped create resentment against
Catholics for centuries.5 In the United States, this resentment took the form
of physical attacks, political exclusion, and virulent anti-Catholic
propaganda.6 The next section of the Article will examine the extent of such
resentment.7
While the Catholic Church is no longer under direct physical attack,
contemporaneous efforts seek to hold the Pope and the Church civilly and
criminally liable in various contexts.8 Most recently, sexual abuse
allegations prompted domestic and international attempts to hold the Pope
Copyright © 2015, Bill Piatt.
Professor of law and former Dean (1998–2007), St. Mary’s University School of Law.
I would like to thank my research assistants, Sean Cohen and Jonathan Greiner. I would also
like to thank Maria Vega for her clerical and technical assistance.
1 JOHN THAVIS, THE VATI CAN DIARIES: A BEHIND-THE-SCENES LOOK AT THE POWER,
PERSONALITIES AND POLITICS AT THE HEART OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH 305 (2014).
2 See discussion infra Part II.
3 See BILL PIATT, CATHOLIC LEGAL PERSPECTIVES 3–5 (2d ed. 2014).
4 See id.
5 Robert Lockwood, The Evolution of Anti-Catholicism in the United States, in ANTI-
CATHOLICISM IN AMERICAN CULTURE 15, 21 (Robert Lockwood ed., 2000).
6 Id. at 29.
7 See discussion infra Part II.A.
8 The Catholic Church and Child Abuse: Looming Shadows, ECONOMIST (May 17, 2014),
http://www.economist.com/news/international/21602248-bid-hold-catholic-leadership-
responsible-paedophile-priests-looming-shadows.
556 CAPITAL UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW [43:555
and his Church accountable to civil authorities.9 Papal infallibility offers no
insulation from these attempts.
Under some circumstances, however, the Pope acting as the head of the
Catholic religion in implementing theological practices of the Catholic
Church is afforded civil protection.10 As will be discussed, these matters are
extremely complicated. The Pope needs legal representation in these
situations, particularly in light of the lingering resentment some hold against
the papacy and the Vatican.
While invoking papal infallibility in theological matters provides
limited insulation from private claims, another—legal—doctrine affords
additional protection. That doctrine involves the “head of state” and related
immunity against private civil claims recognized under international law.11
Part III of this Article will explore the efforts to hold the Pope liable for civil
torts in the United States, and the application of this “head of state”
immunity to these claims.12
What if the attempt to pursue an action against the Pope and Vatican is
brought not by individual litigants in a civil arena, but rather, by a nother
nation or body of nations against the nation-state that is the Vatican? It is
apparent that the Pope needs counsel and representation in these arenas as
well. Some international efforts directly challenge the religious teachings
of the Church, even on a subject covered by a papal infallibility
pronouncement.13
Who then provides the representation? And how are those attorneys
selected? After examining the doctrine of papal infallibility, its political
equivalent in the “head of state” immunity, and the unique status of the Holy
See, an attempt will be made to identify those who provide—and will
provide—the Pope with legal representation.14 To do this, this Article will
enter some murky areas of theology, politics, law, and sometimes plain old
human bureaucracy and disorganization.
9 Id.
10 See discussion infra Part III.
11 See discussion infra Parts III.A, III.C.
12 See discussion infra Part III.C.
13 See Vatican ‘Must Immediately Remove’ Child Abusers - UN, BBC (Feb. 5, 2014 11:36
PM), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26044852.
14 See discussion infra Part IV.

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