False Churches, False Brethren, False Gospels
US court rules Vatican can be sued for sex abuse by American priests
From correspondents in Chicago
November 26, 2008 11:47am
A US appeals court has ruled that the Vatican can be sued for the sex
abuse committed by American priests.
The Vatican had tried to block a class action lawsuit alleging that it
orchestrated a cover-up of sexual abuse by clergy with the argument that
it was protected by laws granting sovereign states immunity from most US
Central to the case is a 1962 Vatican mandate, unearthed in 2003, which
outlined a policy of "strictest" secrecy regarding allegations of sexual
abuse by clergy and threatened those who spoke out with excommunication.
A US federal appeals court ruled that the case brought by three Kentucky
men can proceed because exceptions in the law allow the Vatican to be
held liable for the actions of church employees acting within the scope
of their employment in the United States.
"The portions of plaintiffs' claims that are based upon the conduct of
bishops, archbishops and (un-)Holy See personnel while supervising allegedly
abusive clergy satisfy all four requirements of the tortious act
exception," Circuit Judge Julia Smith Gibbons wrote in a 20-page ruling
The Vatican cannot, however, be held liable for the actual abuse because
these acts "were not done while ... acting within the scope of their
employment", Ms Gibbons wrote.
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Jeffrey Lena, the lawyer for the (un-)Holy See, told The Wall Street Journal
he was not "presently inclined" to appeal the decision to the US Supreme
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Mr Lena called the ruling "very incremental" and noted it does not
establish whether Vatican policy contributed to the allegations of
thousands of incidents of abuse by Roman Catholic clergy.
"We're miles away from liability," he said.
The ruling was hailed as a potential breakthrough by abuse victims.
"This is a very encouraging sign and very long overdue step in the long
march toward justice, prevention and healing," said Barbara Dorris,
outreach director for the victims group, Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests.