Vatican releases documents in Ore. sex abuse case

AP News
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Posted: Aug 19, 2011 7:38 PM
Vatican releases documents in Ore. sex abuse case

The Vatican insisted Friday that an Oregon priest accused of sexually abusing young people was not its employee, as it released hundreds of pages of documents _ much of them written in Latin _ in response to a ruling by a federal court judge in Portland.

The documents are a step toward bringing the nearly decade-old case closer to resolving a core question: whether the Vatican can be held responsible under U.S. and Oregon law for the abuse alleged in the Washington state man's lawsuit.

If a federal judge decides that under Oregon law the Vatican was effectively the employer of the Rev. Andrew Ronan in the mid-1960s _ when he was assigned to Portland _ and is alleged to have abused the young man, the case against the Holy See could go forward.

An employee relationship could allow an exception to a federal law that otherwise generally prohibits suits against foreign sovereign entities such as the Vatican.

The suit filed by Minnesota lawyer Jeff Anderson on behalf of the man identified as John V. Doe names the Vatican as a defendant, along with Ronan's religious order and U.S. archdioceses in Chicago and Portland. Cases of Anderson's in Wisconsin and Illinois also name the Holy See, but they are not so far advanced.

The Vatican's lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, called on Anderson to drop the suit against the Vatican, saying the responses show the theory that Ronan was a Vatican employee is spurious.

Anderson said Friday he's reviewing the material and wouldn't comment on it, but he said the Vatican's compliance with the ruling of Judge Michael Mosman was "groundbreaking."

Two sets of documents this week elaborate on the Vatican's defense that it had minimal involvement in Ronan's career and no knowledge of his misdeeds until shortly before he left the priesthood. The Vatican posted about 70 pages of documents related to Ronan on Wednesday, followed by the larger release on Friday. It is the first time the Vatican has provided documents in response to a sex abuse lawsuit.

Ronan died in 1992. He 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, an action that could be important when Mosman rules on the question.

The Vatican didn't hire or pay Ronan, Lena said in a statement Friday, nor was it involved in his training or transfers from Ireland to Chicago and eventually to Portland. Nor did it know of his actions until the archbishop of Portland moved against Ronan in early 1966, he said.

"... the written responses confirm that the Holy See was not involved in Ronan's transfers and had no prior knowledge that Ronan posed a danger to minors," Lena said.

Mosman's ruling, though, suggests that even one link could be enough to establish an employer relationship.

On Wednesday the Vatican released documents that showed officials of Ronan's order, the Friar Servants of Mary, knew about his actions as early as 1959 and worried about the possibility of a scandal as they transferred him twice.

The material released Friday consists of:

_ More than 1,800 pages of documents, most in the public domain, Lena said. The documents are in response to Doe's lawyers' requests for information about how priests are trained and governed. Lena said the documents are in publications that would be available to scholars and researchers, at a Catholic college's library, for example.

_ Legal arguments in which the Vatican reiterates its contention that Ronan was not an employee of the Vatican and objects to questions raised by the plaintiffs on a number of grounds that also include First Amendment rights.

The order's current U.S. leader, known as the prior provincial, the Rev. John Fontana of Chicago, said he could not comment on what happened more than 40 years ago. "We pray for the victims," he said. "... We have taken all the appropriate steps."

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Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.