A Supreme Court decision issued today allows an Oregon sexual abuse lawsuit against the Vatican to go forward, raising the possibility that the Catholic Church may have to defend itself in Oregon courts against allegations that it covered up repeated abuse by a priest.
The Oregon child abuse case, officially known as Holy See v John Doe, was brought by an alleged abuse victim. It turns on the actions of Father Andrew Ronan, an Irishman who the church moved from his native country to Chicago and later to Portland as abuse accusations followed him from place to place from the 1950s through the 1980s, according to Associated Press. Ronan died in 1992. The suit’s plaintiff is seeking damages from the church, as Ronan’s employer, for abuse he suffered as a teenager in 1965.
The Vatican, in turn, claims that as a sovereign state it is shielded from such liability under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act – a law that prevents individuals from suing foreign countries except in a few, relatively narrow, circumstances. On Monday the Supreme Court turned down the Vatican’s appeal, letting lower court rulings in favor of the plaintiff stand. Those earlier rulings held that the Vatican’s sovereign immunity was not absolute and that the church “could be sued in a U.S. court on certain grounds,” according to the Washington Post.
This important ruling strengthens the principal that abusers and those who facilitate their actions can be held to account in our courts. In reaffirming the right of Oregon abuse victims to sue for compensation for the violence and trauma they have suffered, the court sent a message that should resonate with any Oregonian injured by a powerful institution.
An Oregon personal injury lawyer can help clients explore the complexities and nuances of this ruling and advise on whether they open new opportunities for plaintiffs to seek justice – even for abuse that occurred a long time ago. In reaffirming the accountability of powerful institutions, the court has struck a blow for all Oregonians contemplating personal injury lawsuits.
Washington Post: Supreme Court to allow sex-abuse suit against Vatican to proceed