US Supreme Court Denies Vatican Appeal

Sends Oregon Abuse Case Back to District Courts

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 30, 2010 ( The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the Vatican that would contest the decision of the lower courts in Oregon to allow the Holy See to be sued for transferring a known sex offender from Ireland to Chicago to Oregon.

The court issued its decision Monday, which in effect allows the lawsuit John V. Doe v. Holy See to move forward in the Oregon courts, where it was initially filed.

The plaintiff, who says a priest of the Servants of Mary, Father Andrew Ronan, molested him in the 1960s, accuses the Vatican of negligence in dealing with the known sexual abuser. The priest had been found guilty of abusing boys in Ireland and Chicago before he was moved Portland.

Jeff Anderson, the attorney for John V. Doe, said on Monday that “the claims against the Holy See included vicarious liability for the acts of its instrumentalities and domestic corporations, respondeat superior for the actions of Ronan as an alleged employee of the Holy See, and direct liability based on the Holy See’s own negligence in retention and supervision of Ronan, and its failure to warn of his harmful propensities.”
The Holy See’s attorney in the case, Jeffrey Lena, invoked sovereign immunity in an attempt to get the lawsuit dismissed, but both the district court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the motion, based on exceptions in the law. The court said that if Father Ronan could be considered an employee of the Vatican, then it would be ultimately responsible for his actions.

Lena petitioned the Supreme Court to hear an appeal, but that petition was denied Monday.


In comments to the National Catholic Register, Lena said that while the decision is disappointing, it’s not a decision against the Holy See’s case.

“It would have been helpful had the Supreme Court accepted the case,” he told the newspaper, “but the issue before the court was narrow, relating only to the meaning of the term ‘scope of employment.’ The decision of the court not to take the case is not a reflection of a lack of merit. In fact, as is well known, the United States agrees with the Holy See on the underlying legal issue.”

He said the next step is to return to the district court in Oregon, and prove that Father Ronan was not an employee of the Vatican, “and that, therefore, the district court does not have jurisdiction over the case.”

“The Holy See did not pay the salary of the priest or provide his benefits or exercise day-to-day control over him,” Lena explained, “or have any other connection with him indicating the presence of an employment relationship.”

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