PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A former Oregon man who said he was sexually abused by a pedophile priest nearly 50 years ago has withdrawn his appeal of a ruling that said the Vatican did not employ the priest and is not liable for damages.
Lawyer Jeff Anderson named the Vatican as one of the defendants in the 2002 lawsuit he filed on behalf of the man identified as John Doe. Anderson said Tuesday his client still believes “all roads lead to Rome” but has grown weary of the long legal odyssey. The decision was made shortly before a deadline to reply to the Vatican’s appellate briefing.
“This survivor decided that we should pursue this effort, but through other means and not his case,” said Anderson, who is based in Minnesota.
The Vatican’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, said the case that ended at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was “way over the top” and should have never been filed.
Neither side disputes that the Rev. Andrew Ronan, a priest of the Friar Servants and Mary order, abused children in Ireland and Chicago before he was transferred to Portland. John Doe was 15 when he was allegedly molested in 1965.
Ronan left the priesthood in 1966, shortly after the Portland archdiocese began a proceeding against him. The Vatican approved the departure, returning him to lay status. Ronan died in 1992.
The plaintiff, who reached a settlement with the religious order, said the Vatican should also be financially liable. He and his lawyer alleged that the Vatican approved the transfers to hide Ronan’s behavior. The Vatican, however, said it learned of Ronan’s actions after he got to Portland, and it does not control the movement of individual priests across the world.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman examined thousands of pages of documents before determining last year that the Vatican did not employ Ronan and was not involved in the priest’s transfers. An employee relationship between the Vatican and Ronan could have allowed for an exception to a federal law that generally prohibits lawsuits against foreign sovereign entities.
Lena said Doe and Anderson had the documents showing that only the religious order knew about Ronan’s abuse. “They just continued to beat on this case way beyond when they knew it should have died.”
He said in a statement that the case is the third of its kind to “disintegrate in the face of legal and factual challenge,” referring to lawsuits against the Holy See that were filed in Kentucky and Wisconsin and later withdrawn.
Anderson said an earlier ruling in which the judge said the Vatican is not immune under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act was an important win, and the dropping of Doe’s lawsuit will not end his effort to hold the Vatican accountable.
“Far from the end,” he said. “For us, it’s the beginning because this case is the one that opened the door.”
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