PORTLAND, August 21, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An Oregon judge has ruled that the Vatican is not liable for the sexual abuse crimes committed by priests in the United States. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman said on Monday that priests are not employees of an international corporation – the Vatican.
The suit was originally launched in 2002 by a Seattle-area man who claimed that the Holy See should be held liable for the actions of Fr. Andrew Ronan who, he claims, repeatedly molested him in 1965. The ruling does not affect an ongoing suit against Ronan’s religious order.
“There are no facts to create a true employment relationship between Ronan and the Holy See,” Judge Mosman said.
Jeff Lena, the Vatican’s attorney said, “This is a case in which, for the first time, a court in the U.S. has taken a careful, factual look at whether or not a priest in the U.S. can be viewed as an employee of the Holy See and the answer, unequivocally, was no.”
Lawyers for the plaintiff, who has not been named in the press, have said he will be considering an appeal. The case was the last one pending of several that have since been dropped maintaining that because the Vatican, or specifically the pope, has the power to laicize a priest an employer-employee relationship exists between them.
Jeff Anderson, attorney for the plaintiff in the Oregon case said, “We believe that under further scrutiny, the courts will find that Vatican protocols and practice make it clear that obedience to Rome required the secrecy and concealment practiced by priests and bishops as the clergy abuse crisis unfolded in the United States.”
Under the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law, however, it is the local bishop’s purview whether to monitor and discipline a priest in his diocese, to suspend his faculties for celebrating Mass or hearing confessions or prohibit him from presenting himself as a priest. The Vatican only becomes involved in a laicization case if a priest appeals the bishop’s decision. Local dioceses normally pay for the training of seminarians and the bishop ordains, appoints and oversees the priest’s pastoral work for the diocese.
In the case of priests belonging to a religious order, like Ronan’s order the Servites, the order recruits, pays for the training of the priest and oversees his appointments and work. Religious orders function separately from local dioceses so they can operate in different places. In the 1960s, the Servites had independent branches in 12 countries in South America and Africa which were governed locally.
In Ronan’s case he was accused of molesting children in Ireland and later in Chicago, and was then transferred to Portland, with the decisions to transfer him being undertaken by officials of the Servite order. Ronan was laicized in 1966 after the Portland diocese began a canonical proceeding against him. He died in 1992.
Nevertheless, Anderson and the plaintiff maintain that “all of the responsibility lies with the Vatican.”
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (SNAP) said in a statement, “It’s a shame that, once again, top Catholic officials successfully exploit legal technicalities to keep clergy sex crimes and cover ups covered up.
“The truth is that the Vatican oversees the church worldwide, insisting on secrecy in child sex cases and stopping or delaying the defrocking of pedophile priests.”
But Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena countered the accusation, pointing to documentation brought before the court in 2011 showing that the Vatican confirmed Ronan’s laicization in 1966, within weeks of being made aware of his misconduct.
Lena said the case is an ideologically-motivated “calumnious” attack on the Catholic Church, saying the plaintiff has “chosen to misuse the legal system as a vehicle to pursue a broader agenda.”
This opinion is shared by Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia School of Law, who said lawsuits against the Vatican, a sovereign state, normally get dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds. Laycock told the Associated Press, “This was likely filed more to make a political statement.”