Vatican uses NY decision to seek dismissal of a Guam abuse case

Guam Daily Post

May 23, 2022

By Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

[See also the Robles v. Holy See decision.]

The Vatican is using a New York court’s recent decision to bolster its push for the dismissal of a Guam case that seeks to hold the Holy See responsible for former Guam Archbishop Anthony Apuron’s alleged sexual assault of a child.

California-based attorney Jeffrey Lena said the New York court “supports dismissal with prejudice of all claims against the Holy See.”

Lena, whom the Vatican relies upon for defense in lawsuits on U.S. soil, on Friday filed in the U.S. District Court of Guam a supplemental brief in support of their July 2021 motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, insufficient service of process and failure to state a claim. 

The Vatican claims immunity under U.S. law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, which allows foreign states to avoid being sued in court.

The District Court of Southern New York, in the Robles v Holy See case, granted the Vatican’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, lack of standing, and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

That December 2021 decision essentially says the Vatican couldn’t be sued in a court for sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests, affirming that the Vatican enjoys sovereign immunity.

The same New York court in January denied the plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint.

The plaintiff alleged that a Catholic priest in New York sexually abused him in the early 1980s. The plaintiff asserted negligence, gross negligence, and negligent training, supervision, and retention claims against the Holy See.

Lena said the Robles court held that the conduct of the Archdiocese of New York and the Pallottines religious order “could not be imputed to the Holy See.”

The court in Robles determined that the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged that Catholic clergy in the United States were Holy See “employees” to survive a facial attack, Lena said.

But in the Guam case, he said, the plaintiff alleged that “Apuron was an employee of the Holy See ‘through the alter ego entities’,” an employment theory that requires attribution from the separate corporations to the Holy See.

The court in the New York case, Lena said, held that sexual abuse by clergy is not within the scope or furtherance of the employment of the abusive clergy member, and any claims arising from the priest’s intentional torts against the plaintiff must be dismissed as against the Holy See.

The plaintiff in the Robles case alleged facts showing that the Pallotines religious order had prior knowledge that the priest in question posed a danger to minors.

Lena said the Robles court held that “conclusory allegations” of prior knowledge such as those presented in the Guam case were insufficient.

The plaintiff in the Guam case, identified in court documents only as “D.M.” to protect his privacy, seeks to hold the Vatican accountable for Apuron’s actions.

D.M.’s case alleges Apuron raped and molested him in school year 1994-1995 when he was a minor attending Father Duenas Memorial School.

The filing of a supplemental brief in the Guam case was a joint stipulation between the Vatican’s counsel and D.M.’s counsel, Charles McDonald.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood granted the joint stipulation in a May 18 order that also permits the plaintiff to file a four-page supplemental brief regarding the Robles case on or before June 3.

The Holy See is also permitted to file a one-page reply to the plaintiff’s brief on or before June 10.

Apuron was stripped of his power as Guam archbishop after a Vatican tribunal convicted and later upheld that conviction for sexual assault of multiple minors.

D.M. is one of nearly 300 survivors of Guam clergy sexual assaults that brought claims in the Archdiocese of Agana’s bankruptcy case.