Ore. Judge Denies Request to Directly Question Vatican Officials over Priest Abuse

By Jeff Barnard
The Republic
December 2, 2011

A federal judge has denied a request for face-to-face questioning of Vatican officials in a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a priest in Oregon during the 1960s.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman ruled from Portland, Ore., on Thursday that lawyers for the man alleging the abuse failed to show he should be granted an exception from the immunity granted to foreign countries under federal law.

A 63-year-old Washington man, known as John V. Doe, is trying to sue the Vatican, rather than just the Portland Archdiocese, over allegations he was abused by the late Rev. Andrew Ronan in the 1960s.

Earlier this year the judge ordered the Vatican to supply written responses to questions from lawyers for the accuser.

After reviewing those documents, the accuser's lawyers argued that face-to-face questioning of Vatican officials was the only way to answer questions about whether they were effectively Ronan's employer. They said in court documents that the more than 1,800 pages of documents filed by the Vatican, including many in Latin, failed to directly answer their questions, were all largely available online or in Catholic libraries, and did not include any internal communications.

Lawyers for the accuser have been trying to get around sovereign immunity for the Vatican by arguing the Holy See was Ronan's employer.

Attorneys for the Vatican have called for the judge to dismiss the case, arguing the Vatican had no direct control over Ronan.

One of the documents released by the Vatican in August showed that officials of Ronan's order in the U.S., the Friar Servants of Mary, knew about abuse allegations against him as early as 1959, yet transferred him twice before moving to remove him from the priesthood in 1966. Ronan left the priesthood before those proceedings were completed, and died in 1992.

The Vatican's attorney in the U.S., Jeffrey Lena of Berkeley, Calif., has said the documents show the Vatican was not aware of allegations against Ronan until church officials in the U.S. moved to remove him from his priestly duties, a process known as laicization.

Lena and other lawyers for the Vatican did not return telephone messages or emails for comment. Court documents indicated he was in the Vatican consulting church officials.

William Barton, one of the attorneys for the accuser, said the ruling likely marked the end of efforts to directly question Vatican officials, but many questions remained over issues of other evidence being demanded from the Vatican. He noted that the case has been going on for a decade, and had a long way to go. No trial date has been set yet.

Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she was disappointed at the ruling.

"Once again, church officials have used every legal technicality they could muster, including responding to court orders in Latin, to avoid telling the truth in open court," she said in an email.

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