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Sex Abuse Case Against Vatican Set to Move Forward

On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the Vatican that would have prevented a child sex abuse lawsuit against the Holy See from moving forward. In the lawsuit, an unnamed Seattle man alleges that the Vatican should be held responsible for the actions of the priest, Rev. Andrew Ronan, who he claims sexually molested him in Portland in the 1960s.

Before being transferred to Oregon, Rev. Ronan was accused of sexually abusing boys in Armagh, Ireland and at St. Phillip's High School in Chicago, Illinois. Rev. Ronan was removed from the priesthood in 1966 and died in 1992.

Before the Court turned down the Vatican's appeal, many commentators believed it would be difficult if not impossible to bring a legal claim against the Vatican for the acts of priests accused of molestation and other sex crimes.

The Vatican argued that it was protected from liability in clergy sex crime cases under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law providing immunity to heads of state from most civil lawsuits in the U.S. The attorney representing the alleged victim argued that the federal law should not protect the Vatican because priests are employees of the Catholic Church under state law. 

Prior to the Supreme Court's ruling, a federal district court ruled that a sufficient employer-employee relationship existed between the Vatican and the accused priest for the lawsuit to move forward. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court's finding.

Attorneys representing sex abuse victims say the Court's contentious decision reflects a growing recognition of the depth of the clergy sex abuse scandal worldwide. The Supreme Court's ruling does not mean that the lawsuit against the Holy See will ultimately be successful, but the decision could mean additional lawsuits will be brought against the Vatican.


Court Lets Vatican-sex Abuse Lawsuit Move Forward (

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