US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Who's the boss? Judge rules that for abusive priests, it's not the Vatican

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

An important decision was announced today in an Oregon court, where a judge ruled that the Vatican is not the employer of priests charged with sexual abuse.

In the case, the plaintiffs had argued (in an original lawsuit from 2002 from a man saying that Rev. Andrew Ronan had molested him in the 1960s) that the Vatican is responsible for the actions of such priests since, as they said, all priests are employees of the Vatican. In response, Judge Michael Mosman said that he did not see the relationship between the Vatican and the priests as an employer-employee relationship.

“There are no facts to create a true employment relationship between Ronan and the Holy See,” Mosman said. In the argument, the plaintiffs said that the Vatican’s ability to promote and remove priests as well as influence priests’ training were characteristics of the Vatican as an employer.

This case—the last standing major case against the Vatican—was also the furthest any such case has gotten, as lawsuits against the pope are usually rejected due to sovereign immunity and a lack of jurisdiction in the United States to sue the Vatican.

Accountability has been a problem since the abuse crisis came to light ten years ago. In Philadelphia, Msgr. William Lynn was recently sentenced to 3 to 6 years in prison for his role in covering up sexual abuse in a landmark trial marking the first time a church leader (and not just an offending priest) was prosecuted and convicted.

In our June issue, we heard from readers who wanted to see more accountability from church leadership—namely, the bishops. Should this sentiment extend to the Vatican as well?