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Supreme Court declines to hear Vatican appeal; abuse victims' suit will proceed

Catholic World News - June 28, 2010

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear the Vatican’s appeal of an Oregon judge’s decision allowing a sex-abuse victim to proceed with a lawsuit against the Vatican.

The Supreme Court made no decision on the case, and no comment on the merits of the arguments, but simply decided not to add the Vatican’s appeal to the crowded docket of cases to be argued before the high court. The effect of the Supreme Court decision is to send the lawsuit back to the Oregon court for discovery and an eventual trial. The lawsuit has been moving through the courts since 2002.

The Vatican had argued that the case should not proceed, because the Holy See is immune from criticism as a sovereign state. But the judge in the Oregon case ruled that the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act would not apply if the plaintiff can demonstrate that the priest who abused him was acting as an employee of the Vatican. The judge found—and an appeals court agreed—that there was sufficient evidence to proceed on the basis of that argument. Jeffrey Lena, an attorney representing the Holy See, pointed out that the argument has not yet been resolved, and expressed confidence that the court would eventually recognize that a priest is not a Vatican employee. The plaintiff’s lawyer, the ubiquitous Jeffrey Anderson, thought otherwise; he described the Supreme Court’s inaction as “huge, really huge.”

The Oregon case involves a man who was abused in the 1960s by the late Father Andrew Ronan, who had allegedly been moved to Oregon to escape abuse accusations in his native Ireland.

In a separate legal action, the Vatican has asked a federal judge to reject a plaintiff’s request to take a deposition from Pope Benedict XVI in a Kentucky case. In that case the plaintiff argues that bishops are Vatican employees. Jeffrey Lena, who is representing the Vatican in the Kentucky case as well, said that the plaintiff’s arguments are “speculative confabulations” mixed with conspiracy theories, and points out that thousands of documents provided by the Louisville archdiocese have yielded no evidence of any Vatican effort to cover up abuse.

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