Times Finally Questions Context of Abuse Allegations Against The Vatican

After leading the coverage against The Vatican on allegations of long-standing mass cover-ups of sexual abuse by priests, the Times on Wednesday finally questioned some of the context behind the charges in a relatively unflattering profile by Monica Davey of hyperactive anti-Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Anderson: "A Frenzied Pace for the Lawyer Behind Suits Against the Vatican."

Jeffrey R. Anderson, the lawyer whose pursuit of the Roman Catholic Church has been perhaps the loudest, is the center of his own tornado. As employees race in and out of his ornate offices, Mr. Anderson is planning a news conference in Los Angeles about an abusive priest, answering calls from the family of a victim of another from Florida, and preparing a lawsuit in Milwaukee naming the Vatican and the pope as defendants. And this is only a Monday.

"Maybe I'm even manic about it," Jeffrey R. Anderson said.

Mr. Anderson, 62, has been filing suits against priests and bishops since 1983 and, at least once before, against the Vatican itself. But a new wave of accusations reaching ever closer to Rome has emerged in recent weeks, helped along, in part, by Mr. Anderson's discovery of previously undisclosed documents. Now he is receiving new calls and pressing new cases, with more court filings and news conferences, at an almost frenzied pace.

His critics call him a headline chaser and a self-promoter. And even some in the legal community refer to his role as co-counsel in so many abuse cases around the country as "the Jeff Anderson franchise system."


...Jeffrey S. Lena, a California lawyer representing the Holy See, said that while Mr. Anderson had performed an important function - "He has forced some dioceses to acknowledge that there had been shortcomings" - his legal maneuvers against the Vatican tended to operate from a misreading of the how the church is organized.

Mr. Anderson views the church as a purely "top-down" structure, Mr. Lena said, whereas much power is actually exercised locally by bishops without the direct involvement or knowledge of the Holy See.

The Times certainly has focused its reporting on what The Vatican knew, and when, regarding the allegations of abuse.

Davey even suggested Anderson might have other motives than truth and justice:

He will not say how much he has made from his pursuit of the church (he says he does not know). But he insists that the cases, which number more than a thousand (he says he has not counted), have never been about the money.

Yet in 2002, he estimated that he had at that point won more than $60 million in settlements from Catholic dioceses, and he acknowledges that in the most complicated cases, he may receive as much as 40 percent of a settlement or judgment.


Mr. Lena said the suit Mr. Anderson filed last week naming Pope Benedict XVI among the defendants was "over the top" and rife with exaggeration. The suit was on behalf of a former student at a Wisconsin school for the deaf, where the Rev. Lawrence Murphy is accused of abusing boys for almost two decades.

After Davey revealed that the Times contacted Anderson, who provided the paper documents about the Murphy case, she returned to Lena, the lawyer for the church:

"It shows," Mr. Lena said, "how you can both create a media frenzy, and then capitalize on it. Jeff is very, very good at creating intense media interest, and then shaping a narrative for the press to write their stories around." He added later: "He serves these media events up like nice little meals for reporters to chow down on, and they do."