|Pope Benedict XVI has been accused of failing to act on complaints from two archbishops in the US about a priest who allegedly abused 200 deaf boys [AFP]
Jeff Anderson is one of two lawyers representing five men in the US who have brought lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for failing to take action over cases of alleged child abuse in the church.
The case involves a number of documents including internal correspondence between bishops and the Vatican that claim to show Pope Benedict XVI, then a cardinal, failed to respond to letters warning him about a priest who may have molested 200 deaf boys.
According to media reports, an eventual church trial of the priest, Lawrence Murphy, was stopped due to his poor health.
The Vatican has said it did not defrock the priest because of his poor health and because there was no evidence of more recent allegations against him.
Anderson, in an interview with Al Jazeera, explains in detail how the case unfolded and what the implications could be for the Roman Catholic pope.
Al Jazeera: How did you get your hands on these documents?
Jeff Anderson: I had been representing [abuse] survivors suing Catholic bishops in the US for 25 years.
I demanded the documents [from the archdiocese in Milwaukee] and got court orders that required the church to produce them.
In 25 years of compelling the church to turn over documents, this is the first time I have actually received a trail which we knew existed and the documents demonstrate in themselves direct involvement and imposition of secrecy by the Vatican in an abuse case.
This is a direct trail of evidence that goes from the offender [Reverend Murphy] abusing 200 kids, to the Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee, his direct superior.
Archbishop Weakland sought the guidance from the Vatican and contacted Cardinal Ratzinger to ask what to do.
The documents show cardinal Ratzinger's office told him to use secret protocol.
There is a document called Crimen Sollicitationis [Crime of Solicitation], which originally drew guidelines for how the church dealt with priests that used the confessional booth to solicit sex from parishioners, even the young.
All clerics were required to keep abuse secret and to impose secrecy on any laity which discovered the abuse.
Archbishop Weakland started secret protocol proceedings and when they learnt they could not keep that protocol secret they decided to do nothing and give the priest a free pass.
A decision was made in the papal office by Cardinal Ratzinger to give a free pass because they wanted to protect the reputation of the church at the peril of the children.
These documents and the body of evidence I have built up show this is a protocol and practice that has been in place and remains in place and has yet to been fully exposed.
Did you immediately realise the significance of this internal correspondence?
Yes. As soon as I got the documents. As breathtaking as they are, I wasn't surprised.
I realised significance immediately and thought it was best to get them out as soon as possible and in the best way possible which is why I have released them to The New York Times and put them before a court in Oregon.
Have you interacted much with the church during this case? What has their reaction been to the release of these letterss?
The issue has all been in and out of court. I do not know what reaction has been to these letters - they have not commented.
Who are you actually prosecuting in this case?
The case is involving the priest who abused over 200 children – Reverend Murphy. I do have a case against the Pope in Portland, Oregan and I have attached these documents in that case.
Could Pope Benedict be prosecuted for his alleged role in the Milwaukee Archdiocese?
Our hope is that children are protected and until the archbishops and the cardinal and the pope involved in these abuse cases hear a jail door clang behind them, they will continue to be complicit in these crimes.
Our hope is that they clean up but they are not going to get the message until they hear a jail door clang behind them.
They are as responsible as the offenders themselves. The offenders could not control themselves; their superiors could have controlled them.
Where does the Vatican's own system of justice stand within international law?
They have their own canon law which requires secrecy and requires any scandal to be hidden in secret vaults. They also have laws which say crimes against minors and crimes committed within confessional must be secret.
It is in gross violation of international law in any country because their own laws don't give regard to the harm to children.
All their protocols are designed to protect themselves and their reputations.