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Priest is not Vatican 'employee,' federal court rules

Catholic World News - August 21, 2012

A federal judge in Oregon has rejected the argument that the Vatican is the “employer” of parish priests, and should therefore be held responsible for clerical abuse.

“There are no facts to create a true employment relationship between Ronan and the Holy See,” Judge Michael Mosman said in his ruling. After reviewing legal arguments regarding the status of parish priests, Judge Mosman dismissed the Vatican as a defendant in a sex-abuse lawsuit against a laicized Servite priest, Andrew Ronan. The judge allowed the lawsuit to proceed against the Servite order.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2002, was the latest in a series of attempts by plaintiffs’ lawyers to obtain compensation from the Vatican in sex-abuse cases. American courts have consistently rejected the argument that the Vatican is the “employer” of a parish priest. Judge Mosman had called for briefs from both sides of the lawsuit, and after studying them concluded that the plaintiff’s argument was not supported by the facts.

In filing a brief on behalf of the Holy See, Jeffrey Lena, the lawyer who frequently represents Vatican interests in American courts, said that the plaintiff in the Oregon case had “chosen to misuse the legal system as a vehicle to pursue a broader agenda.” Other legal observers agreed that the case appeared to be motivated by political rather the legal aims, since the legal arguments have been consistently rejected.

Attorney Jeffrey Anderson, who represents the plaintiff in the Oregon case, has said that he will appeal the court’s decision.

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