June 28, 2010 / 3:48 PM / 7 years ago

Supreme Court rejects Vatican appeal in sex abuse case

<p>A protestor recites the rosary outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles July 15, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court refused on Monday to consider whether the Vatican has legal immunity over the sexual abuse of minors by priests in the United States, allowing a lawsuit filed in 2002 to go forward.

The nation’s highest court, asked to rule on a U.S. appeals court decision that cleared the way for the lawsuit to proceed, rejected the Vatican’s immunity appeal without comment.

The lawsuit, filed by a plaintiff identified only as John Doe, claimed he was sexually abused on several occasions in the mid-1960s when he was 15 or 16 by a Roman Catholic priest named Father Andrew Ronan.

According to court documents, Ronan molested boys in the mid-1950s as a priest in Ireland and then in Chicago before his transfer to a church in Portland, Oregon, where he allegedly abused the victim who filed the lawsuit. Ronan died in 1992.

The Vatican claimed immunity under a U.S. law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, that allows foreign states to avoid being sued in court.

But the law contains exceptions. The appeals court cited one of those, ruling the lawsuit has sufficiently alleged that Ronan was an employee of the Vatican acting within the scope of his employment under Oregon law.

Pope Benedict met victims of abuse by priests during his April 2008 visit to the United States. The U.S. church has paid $2 billion in settlements to victims since 1992.

In recent months, child abuse allegations against Catholic priests have rocked the United States and Europe, forcing resignations of bishops in Ireland, Belgium and Germany in the biggest crisis in Benedict’s five-year pontificate.

In the Oregon case, the Obama administration backed the Vatican and said the appeals court erred in ruling that a victim’s claim of sexual abuse by a priest falls within the exception to foreign sovereign immunity law.

But administration lawyers said the ruling did not warrant review by the Supreme Court “at this time.”

Editing by John O'Callaghan

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