In Vatican lawsuits, who’s really the little guy?
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In search of an answer, I spent Tuesday of this week with Berkeley native son Jeffrey Lena, the principal architect of the Vatican’s legal strategy, and here’s what I discovered: Understanding the Berkeley connection depends in part on answering the question, “Who’s really the little guy?”
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For most Americans, these cases probably seem analogous to legal fights against Big Tobacco: The victims represent the “little guy,” struggling for justice against the institutional behemoth of the Holy See. The natural temptation is to cheer for the victims, and to see the Vatican’s assertion of immunity as yet another index of its arrogance.
Lena, however, says there’s another way to look at things.
What if we cast the Holy See, by consensus the smallest sovereign state on earth, as the “little guy” in these cases, defending the rights of all small states not to be pushed around by the court system of the world’s biggest superpower? In other words, what if we shift the context from the sex abuse crisis to equality in international relations?
For Lena, who did graduate work in history at UC-Berkeley, a framework based on concerns over the modern projection of American power around the world – which, he says, can at times border on hegemony – seems right on the money.
Understandably, Lena is reluctant to talk much about his own vision of these cases – his job, after all, is to represent his client. Moreover, Lena insists that he is determined to fight these claims because of the Vatican’s “factual innocence.” He says it’s just not true that decisions about transferring abuser priests or concealing their crimes were made in Rome, as these lawsuits generally allege. Lena insists that Vatican officials often never even knew these priests existed until they were being dismissed from the clerical state (usually long after the abuse had occurred), or their names popped up in the press.
Interesting point – one that seems obvious now that I’ve read the article.