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Majority Catholic Supreme Court Allows Vatican-Sex Abuse Case To Move Forward

First Posted: 06/28/10 01:38 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 05:55 PM ET

Vatican Sex Abuse

WASHINGTON (AP)-- The Supreme Court won't stop a lawsuit that accuses the Vatican of conspiring with U.S. church officials to transfer a priest from city to city despite repeated accusations that the clergyman sexually abused young people.

The high court Monday refused to hear an appeal from the Vatican, a decision that allows the lawsuit to move forward. No one has ever successfully sued the Vatican over sex abuse by clergy.

Sovereign immunity laws hold that a sovereign state -- including the Vatican -- is generally immune from lawsuits. The U.S. has had diplomatic relations with the Holy See since 1984.

The original lawsuit, John V. Doe v. Holy See, was filed in 2002 by a Seattle-area man who says the priest, the Rev. Andrew Roman, repeatedly molested him in the late 1960s.

The plaintiff contends the Vatican conspired with the Archdiocese of Portland and other parties to protect the priest by moving him from Ireland to Chicago to Portland.

The U.S. attorney representing the Vatican wanted the federal courts to throw out the lawsuit, basing his argument largely on sovereign immunity.

But lower federal courts have ruled in this case that there could be an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act.

A judge ruled there was enough of a connection between the Holy See and Ronan for him to be considered a Vatican employee under Oregon law, and that ruling was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Vatican has argued that it is not responsible for the actions of individual priests in dioceses.

According to the lawsuit, Ronan began abusing boys in the mid-1950s as a priest in the Archdiocese of Armagh, Ireland. He was transferred to Chicago, where he admitted abusing three boys at St. Philip's High School.

Ronan was later moved to St. Albert's Church in Portland, Ore., where he was accused of abusing the person who filed the lawsuit now under appeal. Ronan died in 1992.

With six Catholic justices, two Jewish justices, and one Protestant judge, the U.S. Supreme Court is composed of a majority of Catholics.

A separate lawsuit filed in Louisville, Ky., and still in the courts, contends the Vatican is responsible for U.S. bishops who failed to stop priests from molesting children.

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