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Federal judge rules Vatican is not the employer of priests

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The Judicial Update

August 25, 2012

PORTLAND, Oregon: A federal judge in Portland, Ore has ruled that the Vatican is not the employer of Catholic priests, rendering alleged victims unable to pursue claims for financial damages due to actions of the priests.[1] Judge Michael Mosman handed down the ruling on August 20 in the last remaining major U.S. sex abuse case against the Holy See. Cases filed against the Vatican in Kentucky and Wisconsin were dropped in recent previous years.[2]

The case, Doe v. See, has centered primarily on whether or not an employee-employer relationship exists between the Vatican and Fr. Andrew Ronan. The plaintiff, identified only as John V. Doe in court documents, alleged that Fr. Ronan raped in the 1960s in Portland, Oregon.[1] Ronan died in 1992, leaving Doe only able to pursue claims against The Holy See, The diocese of Portland and Archdiocese of Chicago. The latter two cases were dismissed several years ago.[3]

The case against the Holy See, however, proceeded. In 2006, Judge Mosman ruled that Doe’s case could proceed, but his attorneys would be required to prove that the Vatican was indeed Ronan’s employer.[1] Mosman’s 2012 ruling, however, ended Doe’s case. Instead of an employer-employee relationship, Mosman found that the relationship was more akin to that of the Oregon State Bar. The Bar has control over attorneys through sanctions and the ability to disbar one, but it is unable to fire an attorney. The Vatican’s relationship to its priests was found to be similar.[3]

Absent any finding of employer-employee relationship, Judge Mosman dismissed the case for a lack of legal jurisdiction.[3]

Attorneys for the Holy See have heralded the decision as a major victory for the Vatican, and that the ruling would end the claim that the Vatican was liable for the actions of priests.[2]

“This is a case in which, for the first time, a court in the U.S. has taken a careful, factual look at whether or not a priest in the U.S. can be viewed as an employee of the Holy See and the answer, unequivocally, was no,” said Vatican attorney Jeff Lena.[2]

Jeff Anderson, attorney for the plaintiff, says they plan to appeal the ruling. “While we’re disappointed, of course, we’re not discouraged,” Anderson told the Associated Press.[2]

“We believe that under further scrutiny,” Anderson wrote in a news release, “the courts will find that Vatican protocols and practice make it clear that obedience to Rome required the secrecy and concealment practiced by priests and bishops as the clergy abuse crisis unfolded in the United States.”[2]

The case is John V. Doe v. The Holy See, et al., Case No. CV 02-430-MO

See also

The 2006 Ruling by Judge Mosman: Opinion and Order in Doe v. See