Suit Blames Catholic Hierarchy

By Mark Larabee
The Oregonian
April 4, 2002

Summary: A Washington man contends the Vatican and others cooperated across international borders to protect a pedophile priest

A Washington man sued the Vatican, the Archdiocese of Portland and the bishop of Chicago on Wednesday, claiming the Roman Catholic Church conspired to protect a priest who sexually abused him by moving him from parish to parish despite knowing his history of pedophilia.

In a lawsuit filed under the name John V. Doe in U.S. District Court in Portland, the 49-year-old Seattle area man claims that Father Andrew Ronan repeatedly abused him in late 1965 or early 66, when he was 15 or 16 years old. The sexual contact happened in several places, including a monastery at St. Albert's Church in Portland and other areas of the city, according to the suit. Ronan died in 1970.

Another suit was filed Wednesday in Pinellas County Circuit Court in St. Petersburg, Fla., on behalf of a man who said he was abused by his priest at a Catholic school in the mid 1980s.

Attorney Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., filed both suits accusing the Holy See, two religious orders, the Archdiocese of Portland, and bishops in Chicago and St. Petersburg of conspiring to hide two abusive clergymen by moving them across state and national lines.

"This is a long-standing pattern and practice that the Vatican directs and in some way requires," Anderson said. "We have evidence that the Vatican requires that the bishops keep these secrets."

The suits are the latest in a flood of sexual abuse allegations against the Catholic Church that have exposed a pattern of transferring priests accused of sexual misconduct to other parishes and settling victims' claims before they became public.

Ronan was stripped of his duties as a priest in 1966 once the sex abuse complaint against him came to light, said Bud Bunce, communications director for the Archdiocese of Portland. "His orders were invalidated," Bunce said.

No one has successfully sued the Vatican in a sex abuse lawsuit, although a handful of lawyers have tried. The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a priest and canon law expert who co-wrote a 1985 report to U.S. bishops warning that more must be done to stop abuse, told The Associated Press he anticipates church lawyers will argue that the Vatican is a country with diplomatic immunity and therefore cannot be sued.

But William Barton, a Newport lawyer who is serving as local counsel in the Portland suit, said this case is different because the church transferred Ronan across international boundaries, from Ireland to the United States.

"The Vatican, as a foreign sovereign, has been able to hide from the consequences of their actions," Barton said. "We think the Vatican is subject to America's laws for the conduct that has caused American kids to suffer."

The Portland suit seeks unspecified damages against the church. It contends the parties are liable for the severe emotional distress caused by the abuse and were negligent for knowingly creating the circumstances in which the abuse was allowed to flourish.

It alleges that Ronan was assigned in 1955 and 1956 to Our Lady of Benburb, Priory, Ireland, and molested a youth there. The parents reported the abuse but let the church deal with Ronan.

"Ronan admitted that this problem went back to his early life, and even though he overcame it for many years, it was still deeply rooted within him," the suit states, quoting files and records maintained by the Catholic Church.

Anderson said the records were obtained from the church in another lawsuit. He said the church never turned them over to law enforcement officials.

In 1963 or 64, Ronan was removed from Benburb and placed at St. Phillip's High School, a boys school in Chicago. The suit claims that Ronan molested three boys there, all of whom reported the abuse independently.

Again citing church records, the suit claims Ronan admitted to the abuse when confronted and said "he did not understand why he was assigned to work at a boys high school in a counselor's private office, where temptation to molest children would be maximized, given his previous record of molestation in Benburb."

Ronan was transferred in 1965 to Portland, where the plaintiff allegedly came to know the priest as a person of great influence as his spiritual adviser. The suit claims the plaintiff was raised in a devout Catholic family, regularly celebrated Mass and received sacraments, and developed great admiration, trust, reverence and respect for the church. The suit claims Ronan gained the confidence of the boy's mother so he could arrange to spend time alone with the boy.

In the St. Petersburg case, Rick Gomez, a 28-year-old computer software consultant from California, said he was abused by a Catholic brother who taught him when he was in the seventh grade at Mary Help of Christians School, a Tampa, Fla., boarding school.

Anderson said the abuse occurred in 1987 and was reported to the Tampa police department two years later. By then, the brother had left the school. He is thought to be a priest in New Jersey, Anderson said.

Since the 1980s, Anderson has represented more than 400 plaintiffs in abuse lawsuits against church officials. Last month, he filed a lawsuit accusing all U.S. bishops and three dioceses of conspiring to cover up sexual abuse by former Bishop Anthony O'Connell of West Palm Beach, Fla., who resigned after admitting he had inappropriately touched a teen-ager more than 25 years ago. Anderson based that suit on federal racketeering laws.

Barton and his partner, Kevin Strever, represented many of the 40 men who have sued the Portland archdiocese accusing Maurice Grammond, a priest, of abusing them. The case is the largest in Oregon history involving clergy pedophilia. The church settled with 23 men and is fighting the remaining suits.

You can reach Mark Larabee at 503-294-7664 or by e-mail at

CORRECTION-DATE: April 10, 2002 Wednesday


* The Rev. Andrew Ronan was a priest at The Grotto, a shrine at Northeast 85th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, in 1966 when he allegedly molested a young man there. A lawsuit filed against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Portland last week incorrectly named the location. A story about the lawsuit in The Oregonian listed an incorrect location.


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