A federal judge in Oregon ruled Thursday that the Vatican must respond to certain requests for information from a man who says he was molested by a priest in the 1960s.
The man known in court documents as John V. Doe filed suit eight years ago. He seeks to hold the Vatican liable for the abuse he said he suffered from the Rev. Andrew Ronan, who died in 1992.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman ruled that Doe is entitled to limited discovery related to whether the priest was an employee of the Vatican.
The Vatican has denied that it was Ronan's employer, citing the facts it found in files from other related Catholic organizations in the case.
Mosman ruled that Ronan may have been under the control of a U.S. Catholic organization, but said in the order that such a system doesn't preclude Ronan from also being an employee of the Vatican.
Doe's attorney, Jeff Anderson, of St. Paul, Minn., said the order goes further than any previous case by forcing the Vatican to turn over documentation. "It's the first time anyone's laid a glove on them to the extent they had to turn documents over," Anderson said.
In his ruling, Mosman cited "significant factual disputes" as to whether the Holy See had the right to control and fire Ronan, and ruled that Doe is entitled to some limited discovery.
The Vatican will be required to answer written questions within 60 days related to its process of defrocking, its policies regarding sexual abuse and its regulation of priests' conduct, among other requests made by Doe, but Mosman limited all of the discovery to files involving Ronan.
Mosman also granted Doe's request that the Vatican produce documents related to its practices and policies regarding sexual abuse and punishment, removal, relocation and treatment of priests, but again limited them to Ronan's specific case.
Jeffery Lena, an attorney for the Vatican, said the implications of the decision are still unknown.
"As a factual matter, Ronan was not a Holy See employee, and the Holy See was not aware of Ronan's misconduct until after Ronan had abused the plaintiff," Lena said in a statement released to The Associated Press on Thursday night.
He declined to comment further.
The Vatican has argued it wasn't responsible for Ronan or his multiple transfers. Amid allegations of sexual abuse, court documents say, Ronan was transferred from Ireland to Chicago and then to Portland, where Doe said the abuse occurred.
In papers filed last summer, Vatican lawyers said hundreds of documents from Catholic officials showed that U.S. officials of the priest's order "knew of Ronan's propensities and transferred Ronan," but the Holy See "had no prior knowledge regarding Ronan" and no role in moving him.