Jeff Anderson, jousting with the Vatican from a small law office in St. Paul
Monday, April 19, 2010
The Vatican's chief American pursuer once flunked out of law school and sold shoes for a living. A father at 19, an alcoholic until nearly 50, he got his start in the law by representing indigent clients. He is now a fitness fanatic who lights his ornate office here with Tiffany reproductions and drives a Lexus.
He gets his balance from Zen Buddhism, his persistence from the reporters who felled Richard Nixon and his inspiration from the sexually abused clients who trust him to make the Roman Catholic Church pay for the sins of its fathers.
Jeff Anderson, who draws headlines and epithets and rarely sleeps more than four hours a night, is using his manic energy to challenge one of the most powerful and secretive institutions in the world, a 2,000-year-old church with hundreds of millions of devoted followers.
"All the roads lead to Rome," Anderson, 62, said during a recent 20-hour day that included a round trip to Chicago on a chartered jet to meet a man abused by a priest. "What we're doing is getting us closer every single day."
Closer, he thinks, to learning how the Vatican responded to internal reports concerning sexual predators. And closer, he hopes, to forcing Pope Benedict XVI to agree that Roman prelates were slow to address abuses and must now work to prevent a repeat.
"We're chasing them. We're taking bites out of their ass," Anderson said aboard the flight from Chicago, vowing a new lawsuit against the Vatican. "They are spinning this thing in a way that is untruthful. And the truth has to be known."
Anderson, who first investigated an abusive priest in Minnesota in 1983, is drawing international attention from the release of documents suggesting that the Vatican and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI, failed to move against American priests who molested children.
One was the Rev. Stephen Kiesle, a convicted child molester in Oakland, Calif. Another was the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who may have molested as many as 200 deaf children before his death in 1998.
The Vatican has also been answering questions about Benedict's actions when he was archbishop of Munich and, later, the leader of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which processed thousands of abuse cases.
Vatican officials say Murphy's case was properly handled. They point to Benedict's condemnation of sexual abuse and his meetings with victims. A statement last week by the head of Vatican Radio suggested the church would work with civil courts. And on Sunday the pope met with sexual abuse victims in Malta, telling them that the church would do everything in its power to bring to justice those responsible for abuse, according to a Vatican statement.
Other comments have been less conciliatory. On Good Friday, the pope's personal preacher likened criticism of the church's handling of abuse cases to "collective violence" against Jews, who suffered and died by the millions during World War II.
At Easter Mass, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a senior Vatican prelate, dismissed the allegations against the church and Benedict as "petty gossip."