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The State of the Holy See Case: An Update

News outlets around the world reported Monday on the dismissal of the case against the Holy See. Oregon U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman’s dismissal of Plaintiff John V. Doe’s case against the Holy See was, admittedly, disappointing. After a 10-year battle against the sovereign Catholic nation, Judge Mosman ruled from the bench that the Holy See was not acting as an employer in this case of clergy sexual abuse. This ruling, however adverse, nonetheless affords us an opportunity to examine this case from the beginning as we look to appeal the decision.
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The case was originally filed in 2002 and amended in 2004 (see the amended complaint here). The first attack from the Holy See came over proper service of process. The Holy See attempted to show that it was not required to accept service, in part by fighting the accuracy of the Latin translations of court documents. After a number of years Plaintiff won this battle and the case crept forward.

The Holy See then attacked the causes of action in Plaintiff’s complaint and Judge Mosman found in Plaintiff’s favor. But the Holy See appealed this decision to the 9th circuit court of appeals. A three-judge panel of the 9th circuit heard arguments in 2008 and in 2009 issued its decision, allowing Plaintiff’s employment-based claims to go forward but cutting out his negligence claims. The Holy See then appealed the 9th circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. We flew to Washington D.C. to meet with the State Department to present Plaintiffs case, but ultimately the Supreme Court declined to hear the case altogether. This sent the case back to Judge Mosman in Oregon to proceed into the discovery stage of litigation.
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Plaintiff John V. Doe sought discovery from the Holy See and for the first time in history, the Holy See was required to turn over documents to an abuse survivor. We provide a summary of the documents produced by the Holy See here.
Shortly thereafter, the Holy See brought its second motion to dismiss, alleging that the Holy See is not subject to the jurisdiction of United States courts. More specifically, Judge Mosman’s decision on Monday hinged on the question of whether Ronan, the priest who abused John V. Doe, was employed by the Holy See.
As we said Monday, we will appeal Judge Mosman’s ruling. We remain optimistic, especially in our argument on commercial activity, a jurisdictional exception that has yet to be fully addressed but which we believe provides jurisdiction over the Holy See. We also note that the case additionally names the Servite religious order to which Ronan belonged. The case against the order is still pending and was not impacted by Judge Mosman’s dismissal of the Holy See.
Now, with renewed energy and encouraged spirit, we look to the 9th circuit and the next step in this already decade-long campaign on behalf of survivor John V. Doe. We have and will continue to stand with and beside this courageous man as he bravely represents the hopes of many clergy abuse survivors against the Holy See.