(The Sun-Times Company, AP) PORTLAND, Ore.– A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a sex abuse lawsuit against the Vatican can move forward with its claim that the Holy See bears responsibility for a priest who was transferred from city to city, including Chicago, even though he was known to be a molester.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman said in his decision that there are exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, under which the Vatican typically is immune from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
Rejecting the Vatican’s bid to dismiss the case, Mosman ruled there was enough of a connection between the Vatican and the priest, who died in 1970, for him to be considered a Vatican employee under Oregon law.
No one ever has successfully sued the Vatican over molestation by Roman Catholic priests and some legal experts have dismissed such lawsuits as publicity stunts.
Attorney Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., who frequently represents abuse victims and who filed the lawsuit, called Mosman’s ruling a “titanic legal victory.”
Anderson said it was “the first time any court has held or acknowledged there is a basis in law to hold the Holy See accountable for cover up and concealment and this international movement of predatory priests.”
But Jeffrey Lena, the Holy See’s attorney in the lawsuit, noted the judge rejected two other arguments for granting U.S. courts jurisdiction over the Vatican. “This decision does not establish jurisdiction over the Holy See, let alone establish liability,” Lena said.
He pointed out the plaintiff still “must prove facts sufficient to support granting jurisdiction on the sole remaining argument.” Lena declined to say whether the Vatican would appeal.
The lawsuit filed in 2002 by a Seattle-area man claims the Vatican, the Archdiocese of Portland and the archbishop of Chicago conspired to protect the Rev. Andrew Ronan by moving him from Ireland to Chicago to Portland despite a history of abuse.
In the ruling, Mosman noted that Ronan admitted to sexual abuse at the Archdiocese of Armagh in Ireland before he was moved to St. Philip’s High School in Chicago, where he admitted to abusing three boys. Ronan then was placed at St. Albert’s Church in Portland, where the plaintiff claims Ronan repeatedly abused him in the late 1960s.
Mosman wrote that the Holy See did “not offer evidence to contradict this allegation of its involvement in transferring a known child-molester.”