Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Immunity, Denied. Again.

In a 50-plus page ruling (fulltext) issued late yesterday, a Federal appeals court in the Northwest has green-lighted a liability and fraud suit against the Holy See filed by a victim-survivor of clergy sex abuse:
The case was originally brought seven years ago on behalf of a plaintiff named only as John Doe, who alleged that he was sexually molested on several occasions when he was 15 or 16 by Roman Catholic priest Father Andrew Ronan.

Before he was transferred to Portland, Ronan had been moved out of two previous parishes -- in Ireland and the United States -- after he admitted to sexually molesting young boys.

When the case finally came to court last year, the Holy See claimed immunity under a US law that grants immunity before US courts to foreign states, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).

But the judges held that Doe's claim met the criteria for an exception to the FSIA, saying it has "control over the priest in terms of his removal and his transfers, enough control that it can be held legally responsible as the master of the priest," said [plaintiffs' attorney Jeffrey] Anderson.

The ruling was "a major breakthrough in the sense that the problem emanates from the top," he said, adding that he expects the Vatican to ask for a review of the ruling or go to the US Supreme Court.
The ruling is the second Federal appellate sign-off in recent months on a suit against "the Vatican"; in November, the Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit likewise turned aside the immunity argument in allowing a case filed by three Kentucky men to proceed.

At the time, the Stateside lawyer representing Rome said he wasn't "presently inclined" to pursue Supreme Court review.