By Daoud Kuttab
Lawyers representing the Latin Patriarchate failed to provide any evidence in opposition to the testimony of the plaintiff in the $31 million lawsuit against the Catholic Church. Latin Patriarchate officials were approached for comment but didn’t respond by the time of publication.
In a court session, Thursday, Church lawyer David Colella asked a few questions. Lawyers did not present any witness of their own to refute any of the statements made by Benjamin Seryani on October 20th. (see report on Seryani’s testimony here).
Court observers felt that Catholic church legal representatives appeared resigned to hear the decision of the judge on their request to quash on grounds of lack of jurisdiction. When asked by Judge Alvarez if they had anything else to say, Colella told Judge Donald Alvarez that “it has been a long-drawn-out case.”
Thursday’s court session at California’s Superior Court of San Bernardino was reserved for the cross-examination of Benjamin Seryani.
The only questions, the Church attorney could think to ask was whether Seryani resided in Jordan, had bank accounts in Jordan, opened businesses in Jordan, or performed services in Jordan. Seryani’s lawyer Robert Spitz said after the court session that none of these questions refuted the extensive testimony from Seryani supporting Jurisdiction that was provided in the first session.
While Church lawyers hesitated in asking any relevant questions, Seryani volunteered some damning testimony that he was asked by Church officials to participate in a $50 million money laundering scheme to raise funds for the American University in Madaba. Seryani refused to accept any money that crossed the line of legality. Seryani became emotional while testifying about his rejection of a scheme by the Church that involved the sale of their land in Palestine.
Despite strong evidence in support of jurisdiction, the demeanor of the Catholic Church lawyers and their weak opposition suggested that they are preparing for the next phase of the case. Latin Patriarch, Pierbattista Pizzaballa is expected to visit Southern California on a fund-raising visit later in November leaving some observers speculating that he might be coming to the California hometown of Seryani in order to find a solution to the case outside of the court.
Another indication of a possible out-of-court agreement of the case was made by counsel for the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher in Los Angeles. In a filing with the court, Knight’s attorney made a reference to this issue. “I am amazed that this case hasn’t been settled yet,” she said.
Legal experts following the case suggest a number of possible scenarios. They include the possibility that lawyers of the church will withdraw from the case and leave it up to the judge to decide the next phase. This could include the possibility of court-ordered mediation.
With the end of the testimony and the weak cross-examination, Judge Alvarez has retired to make his decision on whether to grant jurisdiction in this first-ever case in the United States against the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. If jurisdiction is granted, the parties are most likely to reach an out-of-court agreement or leave it to the judge to decide the next steps.
If Jurisdiction is rejected, Seryani’s lawyer Robert Spitz has vowed to appeal that decision. He stated that overwhelming evidence was presented to support Jurisdiction over the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Among many reasons, the Patriarchate receives more than $1,000,000 per year from the Western Lieutenancy of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, which is based in Los Angeles, as stated by the highest official in that organization. “That fulfills the requirements of jurisdiction,” Seryani’s attorney Spitz said.
تكافح مجلة “ملح الأرض” من أجل الاستمرار في نشر تقارير تعرض أحوال المسيحيين العرب في الأردن وفلسطين ومناطق الجليل، ونحرص على تقديم مواضيع تزوّد قراءنا بمعلومات مفيدة لهم ، بالاعتماد على مصادر موثوقة، كما تركّز معظم اهتمامها على البحث عن التحديات التي تواجه المكون المسيحي في بلادنا، لنبقى كما نحن دائماً صوت مسيحي وطني حر يحترم رجال الدين وكنائسنا ولكن يرفض احتكار الحقيقة ويبحث عنها تماشيًا مع قول السيد المسيح و تعرفون الحق والحق يحرركم
من مبادئنا حرية التعبير للعلمانيين بصورة تكميلية لرأي الإكليروس الذي نحترمه. كما نؤيد بدون خجل الدعوة الكتابية للمساواة في أمور هامة مثل الإرث للمسيحيين وأهمية التوعية وتقديم النصح للمقبلين على الزواج وندعم العمل الاجتماعي ونشطاء المجتمع المدني المسيحيين و نحاول أن نسلط الضوء على قصص النجاح غير ناسيين من هم بحاجة للمساعدة الإنسانية والصحية والنفسية وغيرها.
والسبيل الوحيد للخروج من هذا الوضع هو بالتواصل والنقاش الحر، حول هويّاتنا وحول التغييرات التي نريدها في مجتمعاتنا، من أجل أن نفهم بشكل أفضل القوى التي تؤثّر في مجتمعاتنا،.
تستمر ملح الأرض في تشكيل مساحة افتراضية تُطرح فيها الأفكار بحرّية لتشكل ملاذاً مؤقتاً لنا بينما تبقى المساحات الحقيقية في ساحاتنا وشوارعنا بعيدة المنال.
كل مساهماتكم تُدفع لكتّابنا، وهم شباب وشابات يتحدّون المخاطر ليرووا قصصنا.