Green light for abuse lawsuit against Holy See

Although dismissing claims that the Vatican was negligent in failing to protect children entrusted to clergy, a US judge has allowed plaintiffs in a sex abuse action to pursue a claim that Holy See officials should have warned the public about priests suspected of abusing children.

The International Herald Tribune reports that the ruling allows three men who accuse Catholic priests of sexually abusing them in childhood to pursue damages from the Vatican in a negligence lawsuit.

William McMurry, the plaintiffs' attorney, told journalists that the ruling could open the way to take depositions of Vatican officials and to obtain copies of church records and documents.

"Our whole purpose is to hold the Vatican accountable," McMurry said.

But in previous cases courts have held that the Holy See is immune from the jurisdiction of US courts.

In the present case, US District Judge John G. Heyburn II also dismissed claims that the Holy See was negligent by failing to protect children entrusted to the clergy. He also threw out claims of deceit and misrepresentation by the Vatican.

Jeffrey Lena, a California-based attorney for the Vatican, said the ruling was in many respects favorable to the Holy See because the remaining allegations rely on the unproved assumption that US bishops act as agents of the Vatican. He predicted that claim would not be borne out as the case proceeds.

McMurry is seeking to have the lawsuit certified as a class action, which would allow other accusers to join the case. McMurry represented 243 sex abuse victims that settled with the archdiocese in 2003 for $25.3 million (19.5 million).

US judge allows sex abuse lawsuit against Vatican to go forward (International Herald Tribune, 12/1/07)

Pope's preacher calls for abuse penitence (CathNews, 18/12/06)
LA Archdiocese settles abuse claims for $A75 million (CathNews, 4/12/06)
Californian bishop faces prosecution over failure to report (CathNews, 29/8/06)
LA Cardinal calls sex abuse scandal a 'purification' (CathNews, 2/4/02)

15 Jan 2007