The lawsuit this time is accusing the pope himself of wrongdoing. A federal suit, filed on Thursday in Milwaukee, alleges that Pope Benedict XVI and senior Vatican officials covered up allegations that a Wisconsin priest molested at least 200 children at a school for the deaf in suburban Milwaukee.
The lawsuit contends that the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, while teaching at St. John's School for the Deaf from 1950 to 1974, sexually abused about 200 boys at the school. The alleged abuse included incidents in the confessional, where Murphy allegedly solicited sex from the students. Murphy died in 1998.
The lead plaintiff, identified in court papers as John Doe 16 of Illinois, contends that he was abused over a number of years, that he wrote two letters to Vatican officials in 1995 reporting the abuse, and that nothing was done.
The plaintiff's lawyer, Jeff Anderson, said, "He implored the cardinal to read the letter to the pope and to take action, and it fell on silent and deaf ears."
Anderson of Jeff Anderson & Associates in St. Paul, Minn., is seeking injunctive relief, hoping to force the Vatican to open what he claims are confidential files that contain details of priest abuse allegations and monetary settlements. He is also seeking unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.
"We are attempting to pierce a fortress, a sovereign state, that demands and requires absolute secrecy, putting the reputation of the clergy and the Catholic Church above the well-being of the kids," said Anderson, who recently told The Washington Post that he's filed more than 1,500 lawsuits against the church during his career.
Anderson said he is trying to hold the pope accountable because, as he sees it, "the pope's in charge." He said, "The pope is the guy who is demanding these [secrecy] protocols. The pope is the guy who is ultimately responsible for this and has to be held accountable."
The Vatican had no comment on the lawsuit.
Anderson admitted he's facing an "enormous legal challenge" -- the state of the Vatican City can claim sovereign immunity. But he said he could overcome that defense with two legal arguments.
Under a tort exception, he plans to argue that because the Catholic Church allegedly engaged in systematic activity that injured a large number of people in the United States, it subjected itself to the jurisdiction of the United States and can be held liable here.
Under a commercial activity exception, he plans to argue that the Catholic Church is a massive business organization, commercially present in the United States, and therefore not immune from litigation.
The defendants are the pope, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal Angelo Sodano and the Vatican City. Bertone was deputy to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, at the time of the allegedly inadequate investigation in the mid-1990s.
The lawsuit claims that Ratzinger, Bertone and Sodano all knew about the allegations against Murphy, but kept them secret.