Lawyer says documents show Vatican didn't shuffle priest in Oregon abuse case

The Vatican released internal files online on Aug. 17 showing that despite prosecutors' claims, it had no prior knowledge of an Irish priest's history of sex abuse before he was sent to the U.S. in the 1960s.

The “newly-released documents show that the plaintiff’s lawyers’ long-standing accusations against the Holy See are false,” said Jeffrey Lena, the California-based attorney who is representing the Vatican in the case.

An anonymous plaintiff from Oregon filed suit against the Vatican in 2002 after Fr. Andrew Ronan, an Irish priest with a record of sexually abusing minors, was transferred from Ireland to the U.S. and eventually moved to Portland, Oregon.

Fr. Ronan, a Servite priest from the Friar Servants of Mary, died in 1992.

The plaintiff claimed he was abused by Fr. Ronan several times in 1965 and filed suit against the Vatican and the priest's order, charging in the case of John V. Doe v. Holy See that the Catholic Church was responsible for transferring the priest and conspiring to cover up the allegations.

However, lawyer Jeffrey Lena has argued since 2002 that the plaintiff has not provided evidence that the Vatican moved the priest or had control over him.

“For years, the plaintiff’s lawyers have accused the Holy See of transferring Ronan to Portland with prior knowledge that Ronan posed a danger to minors,” Lena said, but the Vatican “was not involved” in the transfer nor did it know of abuse allegations against the priest, as the internal files now show.

Although the federal courts “have dismissed most of the Doe lawsuit,” Lena said, the Vatican responded to the judge's request for documents relating to Fr. Ronan in order “to assist the Oregon federal district court in resolving the sole remaining jurisdictional issue in the case.”

Lena said that the documents, published Wednesday on the website of Vatican Radio, confirm that the Servite Order informed the Holy See of Fr. Ronan’s misconduct only when the priest petitioned to be laicized in February of 1966, after the plaintiff says he was abused.

Fr. Ronan said in his Feb. 14 letter that the reasons for his request were based on his “repeated, admitted, documented homosexual tendencies and acts against the vow of chastity and celibacy of the priesthood.”

The Vatican granted the petition for laicization just weeks later.

Lena underscored that the plaintiff’s lawyers “never had support for their calumnious accusations” that the Holy See transferred a priest it knew was abusive.

“They have nonetheless chosen to misuse the legal system as a vehicle to pursue a broader agenda – a decision that has misled the public and wasted considerable resources.”

The plaintiff's lawyer, Jeff Anderson, who claims to have won more than $60 million from the U.S. Catholic Church in clerical sex-abuse lawsuits, responded to the Vatican disclosure on Aug. 17. He claimed that the release is only partial and said that he will "reserve comment until the document production is received and reviewed."

Lena said that the Vatican's documentation should help “calm down those people who are too quick to make sensational and unfair comments without taking the time to get an adequate understanding of the facts.”

He also expressed sympathy for the abuse victim, despite the “plaintiff’s lawyers regrettable conduct,” and called Fr. Ronan's actions “deplorable.”

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