Archbishop's Veracity Is Questioned

By William McCall
Associated Press
Monday, December 19, 2005

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Attorneys for alleged victims of sex abuse asked a federal judge to let them question a top-ranking Vatican official about a church doctrine that might permit him to lie under oath.

Archbishop William J. Levada, the San Francisco prelate who earlier this year became the Vatican's guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy, has agreed to be questioned during a Jan. 9 deposition about his tenure as archbishop of Portland from 1986 to 1995.

Attorneys for the victims said Friday they want to ask Levada whether he would rely on the doctrine of "mental reservation" when answering questions at the deposition in San Francisco.

The Catholic Church teaches it is a sin to lie, but the doctrine of mental reservation allows for circumstances when it may be better to avoid the truth to serve a higher purpose.

Kelly Clark, an attorney for several victims, said the deposition could put Levada in the position of balancing his answers between the requirements of federal law and his moral obligations under church doctrine.

"By being a moral matter, does it trump his civil oath?" Clark asked bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth L. Perris, who is setting the ground rules for the deposition as part of the bankruptcy case the archdiocese filed last year to deal with clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

"I just do not want to be precluded from asking, 'Did you use mental reservation in answering any part of that question?' " Clark said.

The deposition is believed to be the first time a high-ranking Vatican official has faced such questioning.

Vatican attorney Jeffrey Lena said the archbishop's civil oath should be sufficient to ensure honest answers. "It's not necessary to inquire whether there is a personal philosophy that causes him to lie," Lena said. "We can just rely on the oath to tell the truth."

The judge said she expected Levada to be questioned at length about his tenure in Portland but did not want to get into questions about religious philosophy.

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