Attorneys looking to tap into the vast resources of the Vatican to settle priest sex abuse cases received a major blow on Monday when a federal judge ruled that the Holy See cannot be considered the “employer” of priests.
Newsmax is reporting that the decision was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman after a six-year court battle and effectively shields the Vatican from having to pay monetary damages to abuse victims.
The original lawsuit was filed in 2002 by a Seattle-area man who accused the Rev. Andrew Ronan of repeatedly molesting him in the late 1960s. Jeff Anderson, attorney for the victim in the case, tried to show that Ronan as well as all priests are essentially employees of the Vatican, which would make the Holy See liable for their actions. He claimed that Ronan’s loyalty to the Pope and the Vatican’s ability to promote priests and/or remove them from ministry were all evidence that the Vatican employed priests.
However, Mosman disagreed and said that after he looked at the facts in the case, he was unable to find any evidence of an employer-employee relationship. He said that using Anderson’s logic, it could be said that the Oregon bar association employs lawyers because they also have the power to disbar someone just as the Vatican can laicize a priest; however, doing so does not constitute a firing.
He also took issue with claims that because Ronan was faithful to the Pope it means he employs him. Mosman said that if this were so, then all Catholics would be considered employees of the Holy See.
Anderson, who has made a career out of prosecuting priest abuse cases, promised to appeal the decision.
“We believe that under further scrutiny,” he said 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.”
Even though Anderson took his case further than any other lawyer who attempted to hold the Vatican accountable for sex abuse crimes, legal experts doubt that he’ll go any further.
Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia School of Law professor, told Newsmax that lawsuits against the Pope are usually dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds, with a U.S. court ruling that the Vatican can’t be sued because there is no jurisdiction in the U.S. to do so.
“This was likely filed more to make a political statement,” Laycock said.
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