As three men, claiming that the Vatican covered up priestly sexual abuse, continue to push a lawsuit against the head of the Catholic Church, a federal judge in Kentucky has ruled that the Holy See is a sovereign and independent state which enjoys immunity from lawsuits as mandated by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.

Under the Act, foreign states can only be sued in U.S. courts only under certain, very strict provisions, and only if it can be determined that they have engaged in commercial or harmful activities in the United States.

Judge John G. Heyburn II of the U.S. District Court in Louisville ruled Friday, to the chagrin of some, that the Vatican is an independent state, and not simply a religious organization as the plaintiffs had claimed.

The alleged victims, who claim that they were abused as far back as 1928, have decided to push ahead with the case and serve the Vatican with official court documents.

The Immunities Act requires that court documents be served to Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, and translated into Latin--the official working language of the Holy See.

The plaintiffs plan to comply, but many doubt that the case will come to fruition.

Judge Heyburn’s ruling is also expected to play some role in a similar lawsuit by a Texas group against Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Although no ruling has yet been made, the U.S. State Department has urged that the case be dropped because the Pope enjoys immunity as head of a foreign state.