US Supreme Court declines to hear Vatican immunity appeal
The US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal on Vatican immunity in a court case relating to the clerical sex abuse of a minor by a priest in the US.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the case – Holy See vs John Doe – means the case will go to trial in an Oregon district court.
The lawsuit, filed by a plaintiff identified only as John Doe, relates to an allegation that Fr Andrew Ronan sexually abused the man when he was 15 or 16 in the mid-1960s.
The Oregon man is seeking to prove that the Vatican is financially responsible for his sexual abuse by a priest by persuading the court that the priest was an employee of the Vatican.
The lawsuit which was filed in 2002.
The Vatican claimed immunity under a US law, the foreign sovereign immunities Act of 1976, that allows foreign states to avoid being sued in court.
By declining to take the case Holy See vs John Doe, the court left intact the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which says that because of the way Oregon law defines employment, the Vatican is not protected under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act from potential liability for the actions of the priest.
Jeff Anderson, the Minnesota attorney who represents the plaintiff and who has represented hundreds of abuse victims, has tried for years to sue the Vatican.
He said he hoped to persuade a judge that he should be allowed to depose Vatican officials.
However, Jeffrey Lena, the US attorney for the Holy See, argued the Vatican is not responsible for individual priests in dioceses, saying the existence of the priest in the case “was unknown to the Holy See until after all the events in question”.
The case will now go back to US District Court, where Doe’s attorneys will attempt to prove that the late Andrew Ronan, a former Servite priest who was laicised in 1966, was a Vatican employee at the time the events took place.
According to court documents, Ronan molested boys in the mid-1950s as a priest in Ireland and then in Chicago before his transfer to a church in Portland, Oregon, where he allegedly abused the victim who filed the lawsuit. Ronan died in 1992.