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Priests not employees of the Vatican

PORTLAND (Agencies): A judged ruled in the Oregon Federal Court, in the United States of America (US), on August 23 that the Vatican is not the employer of priests.

A district court judge, Michael Mosman, put an end to a six-year-old question as to whether or not the Vatican could be sued in cases of priests found guilty of sexual abuse.

The original case was filed by a man from Seattle in 2002, who claimed that Father Andrew Ronan repeatedly molested him in the late 1960s.

He tried to show that since priests are employees of the Vatican, it is therefore legally responsible for their actions, The Associated Press reported.

Mosman said in his ruling that there were factual problems with the case presented by the plaintiff, commenting that if the scenario presented by the plaintiff were indeed correct, then he would find the Vatican responsible.

However, he noted that there were discrepancies in the case presented and the facts, consequently finding that there is no employer-employee relationship.

“There are no facts to create a true employment relationship between Ronan and the Holy See,” Mosman said in his ruling from the bench.

Jeff Anderson, lawyer for the plaintiff, said he will appeal the decision.

The lawyer for the Vatican, Jeff Lena, said the case should put to rest.

“This is a case in which, for the first time, a court in the US has taken a careful, factual look at whether or not a priest in the US can be viewed as an employee of the Holy See and the answer, unequivocally, is no,” Lena said.

However, Anderson countered, “We believe that under further scrutiny the courts will find that Vatican protocols and practice make it clear that obedience to Rome requires the secrecy and concealment practiced by priests and bishops as the clergy abuse crisis unfolded in the United States.”

The impact of Mosman’s ruling on other priest sex-abuse cases is not yet clear. The case has gone further than any other in attempting to get at the relationship between priests in the US and the Vatican.

Mosman pointed out that the Oregon legal bar has many of the same powers over lawyers as the Vatican has over priests: It can disbar someone and issue sanctions, just as the Vatican can laicise priests, but doing so doesn’t constitute a firing.

Mosman added that if the plaintiff’s argument that the Vatican maintains absolute control over all priests was correct, then all Catholics everywhere could similarly be considered employees of the Holy See.


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