11 Dec 2010

U.S. Supreme Court allows Oregon clergy sex abuse lawsuit to proceed against the Vatican

Google News - Associated Press June 28, 2010

Court lets Vatican-sex abuse lawsuit move forward


A lawsuit against the Vatican that had been dismissed as a publicity stunt moved forward when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the Holy See. Monday's development represents a significant advance for what many believed to be a long-shot claim that the Vatican bears legal responsibility for molester priests.

The high court's decision not to stop the lawsuit means the clergy sex abuse case will go to trial in an Oregon district court.

"I have known for 25 years that all roads lead to Rome," said Jeff Anderson, the Minnesota attorney who represents the plaintiff. "This is the beginning for us of a new journey, a uniquely difficult odyssey."

Anderson, who has represented hundreds of abuse victims and has tried for years to sue the Vaitcan, said he hoped to persuade a judge that he should be allowed to depose Vatican officials.

Jeffrey Lena, the American 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 original lawsuit, John V. Doe v. Holy See, was filed in 2002 by a Seattle-area man who said the Rev. Andrew Ronan repeatedly molested him in the late 1960s.

Anderson argues in the case that priests are Vatican employees for the purpose of American law. If the trial judge agrees, that would constitute an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, under which the Vatican has been immune from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.

A lower court judge previously ruled there could be enough of a connection between the Holy See and Ronan for him to be considered a Vatican employee under Oregon law. That ruling was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lena had asked the federal courts to throw out the lawsuit.

"The Holy See does not pay the salary of the priest, or benefits of the priest, or exercise day-to-day control over the priest, and any of the other factors indicating the presence of an employment relationship," Lena said.

According to the lawsuit, Ronan, who belonged to a religious order, began abusing boys in the mid-1950s as a priest in the Archdiocese of Armagh, Ireland. He was transferred to Chicago, where he allegedly admitted abusing three boys at St. Philip's High School.

Ronan was later moved to a parish in Portland, Ore., where he was accused of abusing the person who filed the lawsuit now under appeal. He was removed from the priesthood in 1966, according to the Archdiocese of Portland, and died in 1992.

The Obama administration had sided with the Vatican on the issue of sovereign immunity.

The acting U.S. solicitor general, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Justice Department filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the case does not meet the standard for an exception to immunity.

Douglas Laycock, a religious liberty specialist at University of Michigan Law School, said the brief will be influential as the case proceeds.

"The courts give substantial weight to the State Department's views on foreign sovereign immunity issues," Laycock said.

In 2005, the administration of President George W. Bush argued the pope should have immunity from a lawsuit accusing him of conspiracy to hide abuse because the pontiff is an acting head of a foreign state. Soon after, a federal judge dismissed the case.

However, Steve Rubino, a New Jersey attorney who has represented abuse victims since the 1980s, argued that the court could react differently now that the scope of clergy sex abuse is better known. The case against the Vatican is proceeding as European churches, Vatican officials and Pope Benedict XVI are engulfed by the latest crises over clergy sex abuse.

Rubino said that when he first took up abuse cases, diocesan attorneys often won by arguing that First Amendment religious freedom protections meant that civil courts could not interfere in church business. That approach rarely works any more.

"The world has been affected by a slow realization of the depth of the scandal," Rubino said. "Judges react the same way. People are tired of this."

A separate lawsuit filed in Louisville, Ky., and still in the courts, contends the Vatican is responsible for U.S. bishops who failed to stop priests from molesting children.

The case is Holy See v. John Doe, 09-1.(pdf)

This article was found at:



U.S. government submits legal brief in Oregon lawsuit arguing Vatican has sovereign immunity

Appeals court lets Vatican sex-abuse case proceed

Vatican to be sued over sex abuse claims

Abuse Victims Seek Court Date With Vatican

Vatican Can Be Sued Over Abuse

Vatican submits defense motion in Kentucky abuse case arguing legal fiction that bishops are not its employees

Vatican files arguments in Kentucky sex abuse case to block attempt to question Pope under oath


  1. Explosive sex abuse lawsuit against Vatican dropped

    by John L Allen Jr., National Catholic Reporter Feb. 11, 2012

    ROME -- A Wisconsin sex abuse lawsuit against the Vatican, which helped trigger a global firestorm in early 2010, was withdrawn late Friday. It marks the formal end of a case that seemed to cast doubt on Pope Benedict XVI’s role in the abuse crisis, and shifted focus from local bishops to an alleged cover-up in Rome.

    Lawyers for the victim filed a notice of voluntary dismissal on Friday, effectively abandoning the lawsuit. It had named not only the Vatican but also Pope Benedict XVI and two senior Vatican officials, Cardinals Tarcisio Bertone and Angelo Sodano, as defendants. The suit had been filed by Minnesota-based attorney Jeffrey Anderson, who has frequently represented sex abuse victims against the church.

    Anderson said at the time the case was filed that he hoped to take formal depositions from Benedict XVI, Bertone and Sodano, concerning the Vatican’s role in the sex abuse crisis. Bertone is the current Secretary of State, the top official in the Vatican after the pope, a position formerly held by Sodano.

    Anderson told NCR on Saturday that the decision to withdraw the case was "pragmatic and practical," based largely on the fact that as a result of proceedings related to the bankruptcy of the Milwaukee archdiocese, he had already obtained most of the files regarding the Vatican's involvement he could have gotten through a separate lawsuit. Those documents are presently under seal, he said, but he said they paint an "ugly picture" of the Vatican's role.
    "We have not in any way abandoned our effort to hold the Vatican legally and fully accountable," Anderson said.

    While Anderson said he does not plan to refile the Wisconsin case, he still hopes to pursue depositions of Vatican figures such as Bertone and Sodano as part of other litigation. In the meantime, he said, he plans to depose Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, a former archbishop of Milwaukee, about his role in the Wisconsin case.

    The Vatican’s lawyer, California-based Jeffrey Lena, nevertheless welcomed the withdrawal of the case.

    “A case like this, which was held together by a mendacious web of claims of international conspiracy, amounts to what appears in its aftermath to have been little more than a misuse of judicial process and waste of judicial resources,” he said.

    With the collapse of a similar case in Kentucky in 2010, Friday’s dismissal leaves only the Doe v. Holy See case in Oregon, originally filed in 2002, as an active sex abuse claim against the Vatican in American courts. (Another lawsuit in Chicago has been filed but not served on the Vatican through diplomatic channels.)

    Anderson said that another reason for dismissing the Wisconsin case is that it allows attorneys to concentrate on the litigation in Oregon.

    In terms of jurisdiction, lawyers for the Vatican argued in the Wisconsin case, as they have in others, that the Vatican is immune because it’s a sovereign state. Substantively, they contended that under church law, responsibility for supervising priests and other church personnel rests with local bishops, not in Rome. ...

    read the rest of this article at:

    read the Vatican's response at:

  2. Judge dismisses historic child sexual abuse case involving Vatican’s role in clergy abuse cover-up

    Attorney says appeal is definite

    Jeff Anderson & Associates Press Release August 20, 2012

    Statement of Jeff Anderson re: John V. Doe v. Holy See

    (Portland, Oregon)“We are saddened and disappointed that after ten years in the federal courts, United States District of Oregon Judge Michael W. Mosman dismissed the historic lawsuit (John V. Doe v. Holy See) brought by clergy abuse victim John V. Doe against the Vatican for its role in the cover-up and secrecy of the clergy abuse crisis in America.

    However, be assured that we will be appealing this decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Along with courageous survivor John V. Doe, we have been there before, and prevailed, and we expect to prevail again.*

    In making his ruling Judge Mosman’s thoughtful remarks from the bench clearly expressed his difficulty in deciding the case as he referred to the case as very troubling and a close call. But he ultimately decided that under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) there was insufficient evidence to decide that the Vatican has both directional and operational control over priests in the United States. The Judge also acknowledged that there would likely be an appeal of his decision.

    Indeed, I can confirm that there will be an appeal. We believe that under further scrutiny the courts will find that Vatican protocols and practice make it clear that obedience to Rome required the secrecy, and concealment practiced by priests and bishops as the clergy abuse crisis unfolded in the United States.

    Finally, it is with renewed vigor that we must, and will, carry on this fight for transparency and accountability on behalf of John V. Doe and every single survivor of sexual abuse by a priest in this country and across the globe.”

    *Note: Earlier in the case, Holy See claimed sovereign immunity from the suit and moved the court to dismiss the case. However, both the Federal District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Holy See’s motion. As a result, the Holy See petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case on appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition.