Monday, June 28, 2010

Sinking in the Holy See

Update: Here’ an article in the NYT online today: Church Office Failed to Act on Abuse Scandal. The piece prominently features then Cardinal Ratzinger, now the Pope. The photo is from the article. The failure of the Vatican to act will be examined more closely as a result of the Supreme Court action (or rather inaction) described in the post.

o  O  o

I’ve had two recent posts about the efforts of the Vatican to avoid responsibility for sexually-abusive priests in the United States:

Pig Latin (respondeat superior)

And, on top of that, it’s good to be King (sovereign immunity)

The United States Supreme Court has denied a petition for a writ of certiorari to hear the Vatican’s appeal of a federal circuit court’s denial of the claim of sovereign immunity. This is in the National Catholic Reporter today:

John V. Doe was allegedly abused multiple times in 1965, when he was a minor, by Father Andrew Ronan, in Portland, Oregon. Before Portland, Father Ronan was caught by Catholic Church officials sexually molesting seminarians in Ireland and children in Chicago. John V. Doe brought suit against the Servites, a religious order, and the Holy See, which is the head of the Catholic Church. [italics are mine]

The claims against the Holy See included vicarious liability for the acts of its instrumentalities and domestic corporations, respondeat superior for the actions of Ronan as an alleged employee of the Holy See, and direct liability based on the Holy See’s own negligence in retention and supervision of Ronan, and its failure to warn of his harmful propensities. In response, the Holy See claimed sovereign immunity from suit under the FSIA [Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act] and moved the court to dismiss the case.

The district court denied the motion to dismiss and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also denied the Holy See’s motion. As a result, the Holy See petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case on appeal. Today’s action denies the petition and therefore allows the case to move to discovery and trial in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon.

The implication of the refusal to grant the writ is enormous. It is the falling of the citadel. It compares in importance to the first time a tobacco company lost a trial. Remember when R.J. Reynolds seemed invincible, too?

In addition to the prospect of substantial damage awards against it, and perhaps more important, is the airing of the Catholic church hierarchy’s dirty laundry on this issue. (It ain’t called “discovery” for nothing.) The church’s ability to make moral pronouncements — to pontificate, so to speak — on a variety of topics is going to take a hit.

You have to wonder, though, whether the “we’ve got a Pope” stove in the Vatican will be pressed into service for another use.

A thump of the tail to Spot’s friend Jack for the link to the article.

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