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Vatican loses bid for immunity in Oregon clergy abuse lawsuit

[JURIST] A federal judge in Oregon allowed a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Catholic Church to move forward Wednesday, rejecting the Vatican's bid to dismiss the suit for lack of jurisdiction. The ruling allows a Seattle-area man to continue with his claim [complaint, PDF] that the Holy See [official website] is liable for transferring the Rev. Andrew Ronan from Ireland to Chicago to Portland, even though the church knew Ronan had a history of sexual abuse. The lawsuit, filed in 2002 [AP report] in the US District Court for the District of Oregon [official website], alleges the Vatican, the Archdiocese of Portland and the archbishop of Chicago conspired to protect Ronan by transferring him from city to city. District Judge Michael Mosman [official profile] ruled that Ronan was an employee of the Vatican under Oregon law and noted that there are exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act [text], which typically grants the Vatican and other foreign states immunity in US courts. The 1976 act does not shield states when engaged in commercial or certain harmful activities in the United States. The judge added that the Holy See offered no evidence contradicting its involvement in transferring Ronan to protect him.

No one has successfully sued the Vatican over allegations of sexual abuse by priests [JURIST news archive], although individual dioceses have been sued and agreed to large settlements [JURIST report]. Last year, a US district judge in Kentucky ruled [JURIST report] that the Holy See is a foreign state subject to immunity protections under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, rejecting the plaintiff's argument that the Vatican is an international religious organization. A federal judge in Texas later ruled that Pope Benedict XVI [official profile] enjoys immunity as the head of the Vatican [JURIST report], dismissing a civil suit alleging that the pontiff conspired to conceal clergy sex abuse. AP has more.

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