MILWAUKEE — A federal judge is asking the Vatican to cooperate in serving the pope and two other top officials with court papers that stem from decades-old allegations of sexual abuse by a priest in Wisconsin.
The request is an incremental — and long shot — step in a lawsuit that accuses the officials of conspiring to keep the allegations against a Milwaukee priest quiet. The Vatican is not obliged to comply with the request.
Under similar circumstances the Vatican has made service difficult, time consuming, and expensive by insisting, for example, that documentation be translated into Latin, one of the Vatican’s official languages.
Mike Finnegan, the attorney representing the Chicago-based plaintiff, said yesterday that he is not holding out hope that the Vatican reverses course and begins to cooperate now.
“Based on what they’ve done in other cases, I don’t expect them to do the right thing,’’ he said.
Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican’s lawyer in the United States, said he hadn’t seen the court request and couldn’t comment on whether the Vatican would comply.
The lawsuit, filed in April in federal court, names as defendants Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state; and Bertone’s predecessor, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
It contends that the three men knew about allegations of sexual abuse at a Milwaukee-area school for the deaf and called off internal punishment of the accused priest. The Rev. Lawrence Murphy, who died in 1998, was accused of sexually abusing some 200 boys at the school from 1950 to 1974.
Lena has called the lawsuit a publicity stunt with no merit, and said it rehashes theories already rejected by US courts.
The court order requesting the Vatican’s cooperation was signed Sept. 24 by US District Judge Rudolph Randa. It was released yesterday by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.