.- In a lawsuit attempting to sue the Vatican for sexual abuse by a priest, the U.S. government has for the most part sided with the Vatican and against an appellate courtâs argument that a U.S. court can hear the case. The governmentâs argument may significantly hinder the lawsuit.
The suit, Doe v. Holy See, was filed in 2002 on behalf of a man who claimed he was sexually abused by a priest in Oregon in the mid-1960s. The priest had previously been accused of abusing children in Ireland and Chicago.
The Holy See was one of the defendants named in a lawsuit that argues the Vatican should be held accountable for moving the priest to Oregon, where he conceivably could continue to abuse.
Jeffrey Lena, the U.S. attorney for the Vatican, said that the plaintiff has not provided evidence that the Vatican moved the priest or had control over him.
The U.S. Solicitor Generalâs office submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals misapplied the Sovereign Immunities Act. The act covers when U.S. courts can hear cases against other countries.
The brief noted that the Holy See is recognized as a foreign sovereign by the U.S. and the two states have maintained diplomatic relations since 1984. It argued that a U.S. court may not use a U.S. stateâs liability rule to expand the exceptions to sovereign immunity.
The priestâs sexual abuse was also ânot within the scope of the priestâs employment,â according to the solicitor generalâs office, which advised the case be vacated and remanded back to the appellate court.
David Bederman, an international law expert at Emory University School of Law, told the Wall Street Journal that âthe door may still be cracked a bitâ for the plaintiff but âthereâs not a lot of daylight showing.â
Jeffrey Anderson, the plaintiffâs lawyer, said the brief was âa little perplexingâ but he noted that the government did not recommend more drastic action like dismissing the case.
While the Supreme Court is not required to follow the governmentâs recommendation, it is often heavily influenced by its judgment in cases concerning relations with foreign officials or nations.
CNA spoke about the case with J.D. Flynn, a canon lawyer who is vice-chancellor of the Archdiocese of Denver.
âThe Catholic Church is often attacked for being this kind of huge, monolithic structure. Ordinarily we try to say thatâs not what or who we are,â he commented.
In his view the case was âa perfect example of cultural misperception of the Catholic Church, coming now into the legal forum.â
Though the suit tried to depict bishops as employees or agents of the Vatican, Flynn said the bishops themselves are âapostles of Christâ who âact with great personal responsibility for their own particular churches.â
âWe donât want our civil law system to tell us that the apostles are less than who they really are,â he added.
To read the Solicitor General's brief, click here.