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Vatican tries to shield pope from sex abuse lawsuits

VATICAN CITY - Dragged deeper than ever into the clerical sex abuse scandal, the Vatican is launching a legal defense that it hopes will shield the pope from a lawsuit in Kentucky seeking to have him answer attorneys' questions under oath.

Court documents obtained yesterday by The Associated Press show that Vatican lawyers plan to argue that the pope has immunity as head of state, that American bishops who oversaw abusive priests weren't employees of the Vatican, and that a 1962 document is not the "smoking gun" that provides proof of a cover-up.

The Holy See is trying to fend off the first U.S. case to reach the stage of determining whether victims actually have a claim against the Vatican itself for negligence for allegedly failing to alert police or the public about Roman Catholic priests who molested children.

The case was filed in 2004 in Kentucky by three men who say they were abused by priests and claim negligence by the Vatican. Attorney William McMurry is seeking class-action status for it. Saying there are thousands of victims across the country:

"This . . . is the only case that has been ever been filed against the Vatican [with] its sole objective to hold the Vatican accountable for all the priest sex abuse ever committed in this country. There is no other defendant. There's no bishop, no priest."

The Vatican is seeking to have the suit dismissed before Benedict XVI can be questioned or documents subpoenaed.

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