- (Photo: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini)
The Roman Catholic Church cannot be considered the employer of priests and thus cannot be held accountable for their actions, criminal or otherwise, an Oregon federal court has ruled in a landmark decision.
The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman concerned a case first filed in 2002 by a man in Seattle identified as John V. Doe who claimed that the late Rev. Andrew Ronan molested him repeatedly in the late 1960s. The man's lawyers tried to prove that the Vatican should be held liable for the actions of Ronan and all priests, but Judge Mosman ruled against such a standpoint.
"There are no facts to create a true employment relationship between Ronan and the Holy See," Mosman explained in Monday's decision.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) organization shared with The Christian Post Wednesday that they are deeply disappointed in the decision.
"Catholic officials want to have their cake and eat it too – sometimes admitting the church is a rigid, top-down monarchy and sometimes claiming it's radically decentralized. The truth is that the Vatican oversees the church worldwide, insisting on secrecy in child sex cases and stopping or delaying the defrocking of pedophile priests," remarked David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP.
"While we're disappointed, of course, we're not discouraged," added Jeff Anderson, attorney for the plaintiff, noting that they will appeal the court's decision.
The Roman Catholic Church has defended itself and the court's decision, however, stating that all the facts had been carefully examined to determine that an employer-employee relationship cannot be established between the Holy See and U.S. priests.
"This is a case in which, for the first time, a court in the U.S. has taken a careful, factual look at whether or not a priest in the U.S. can be viewed as an employee of the Holy See and the answer, unequivocally, was no," said Vatican attorney Jeff Lena. She added that the Catholic Church does not preside over the laicization, or defrocking process of clergy, unless a priest were to appeal.
The Oregon judge examined a number of hypothetical analogies and questioned the legal teams of both sides, The Associated Press reported, and compared the Oregon legal bar's influence over its lawyers to the Vatican's power over its priests. Mosman also noted that if were to be accepted that the Catholic Church holds absolute control over all priests and acts as an employer, then all Catholics worldwide could be seen as employees of the Vatican.
"This ruling runs counter to the encouraging, long-term trend of more secular officials holding more church officials more responsible for the devastation to children by pedophile priests and callous bishops," Clohessy countered.
The SNAP director added, "We're glad an appeal is planned and we hope that courts will begin to acknowledge the reality that the Catholic abuse and concealment scandal starts at the very top."