Page 3 of 3   <      

Jeff Anderson, jousting with the Vatican from a small law office in St. Paul

Video
Pope Benedict met with a group of clerical sex-abuse victims and told them with tears in his eyes that the Catholic Church would seek justice for pedophile priests and implement "effective measures" to protect young people from abuse.

In 1983, Anderson's first church case came through the door in the person of a young man who said he had been molested by a priest. A bishop had given him $2,000, but the man and his family were not satisfied.

Anderson started digging and soon concluded that members of two Minnesota dioceses were lying. Less than a decade after Watergate, he thought of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and said to himself that he was "in the middle of a [expletive] cover-up."

'Tipping point'

Anderson took depositions and found an anonymous source, his own Deep Throat. The church offered $1 million to settle in return for silence. His client persisted and the investigation grew.

"That was a tipping point in my personal journey," Anderson says, his voice breaking and tears flowing. "All of a sudden, the world changed and I began hot pursuit. I filed lawsuit after lawsuit and I haven't slowed down."

Anderson says he has filed more than 1,500 lawsuits against the Catholic Church, plus 2,000 to 3,000 against other individuals and entities, including other denominations. He estimates that 75 percent yield no money for himself or his clients, often due to a statute of limitations.

Early in his career, Anderson was called the "antichrist." One critic labeled him a "scum maggot." To another, he was a "bigoted shyster lawyer."

After he released the Murphy documents, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights branded him "a radical lawyer who has made millions suing the Church" and supporting efforts to "weaken its moral authority."

"I accept that I have no control over what people think, and I don't try," Anderson says. Lawsuits and news conferences, he says, allow his clients "to feel a sense of recovery of power" and reveal truths "that would otherwise not have been known." He believes his efforts "make it a little safer -- or a lot safer -- for other kids."

Anderson considers his pursuit spiritual: "I'm not sure I want to say this, but it's the answer: It's the pursuit of virtue."

Raised a Lutheran, he long doubted God's existence but now has "a great deal of interest in Zen Buddhism," although he does not count himself an adherent.

"Every day, I practice it as much as I can. I believe Christ was a student of Buddha," he says, quickly adding, "I don't know that. I find the same things running through every religion."

One day, he would like to question Benedict under oath, an unlikely possibility. Vatican attorneys already are disputing U.S. jurisdiction in existing cases.

"As the pope, he's the guy," Anderson says. "He's just a man who is occupying an office. He's responsible for his own actions."


<          3

© 2010 The Washington Post Company