Today the U.S. Supreme Court declined an immunity appeal by the Holy See in a case that attempts to sue the Vatican for transferring a priest accused of sexually abusing a minors several decades ago. The ruling by the Supreme Court allows the case to move forward.
An anonymous plaintiff from Oregon filed suit against the Vatican in 2002 after Fr. Andrew Ronan, an Irish priest with a history of sexually abusing minors, was transferred from Ireland to the U.S. and eventually moved to the Portland, Oregon. According to Reuters, Fr. Ronan died in 1992.
The plaintiff claims he was abused by Fr. Ronan several times in the mid 1960s and has filed suit against the Vatican, charging that the Catholic Church is responsible for transferring the priest and conspiring to cover up the allegations.
Jeffrey Lena, the U.S. attorney for the Vatican, has argued that the plaintiff has not provided evidence that the Vatican moved the priest or had control over him. Several U.S. bishops have also stated in the media that it is the local bishop who has control over priests, not the Vatican.
In a move to have a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated, the Holy See attempted to claim immunity under a U.S. Law – the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 – which helps prevent foreign states from being sued in court.
However, the appeals court cited exceptions to the law and charged that there was sufficient evidence that Fr. Ronan was an employee of the Vatican under Oregon law, thus allocating responsibility to the Holy See.
Another development in the case came in May when the U.S. Solicitor General’s office submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals misapplied the Sovereign Immunities Act.
The brief also claimed that the priest’s sexual abuse was also “not within the scope of the priest’s employment,” according to the solicitor general’s office, which advised the case be vacated and remanded back to the appellate court.
Despite these arguments, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the 9th Circuit ruling to stand and declined to rule on the Vatican's immunity appeal. The decision by the nation's highest court was made without comment. The case will now proceed in U.S. District Court under the Oregon standards of employment.