National Catholic Reporter

The Independent News Source

Vatican may resist judge's order for documents

 | 
U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman

A ruling on Thursday from a federal judge in Oregon marks the first time that an American court has ever issued an order requiring the Vatican to hand over documents in a sex abuse case.

Whether that actually happens, however, depends on how the Vatican responds, including whether it tries to persuade either the Oregon judge or an appeals court that it shouldn’t have to comply.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman on Thursday granted a limited number of requests for discovery put forward by attorney Jeffrey Anderson, representing a man who says he was abused by Andrew Ronan, a former Servite priest who was laicized in 1966 and who died in 1992.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the main advocacy group in the United States for victims of clerical abuse, hailed the order as a “historic achievement.”

“Many clergy sex abuse victims are distraught that thousands of Catholic officials who ignore and conceal heinous crimes escape any consequences for their corruption,” said a statement from Joelle Casteix of Newport Beach, California, the western regional director of SNAP.

“We are confident that this court ruling will give many victims some sorely-needed hope,” she said.

envelope-gray-background.jpgLike what you're reading? Sign up for NCR email alerts.

Since the core issue in the Oregon case is whether Ronan was an “employee” or “agent” of the Vatican, Mosman limited the requests to documents related to the Vatican’s laicization process, its policies regarding sexual abuse and its regulation of priests’ conduct, as they relate specifically to Ronan.

By granting only those requests, Mosman effectively rejected other requests from Anderson, including the idea of taking depositions from senior Vatican personnel, up to and including Pope Benedict XVI.

Attorney Jeffrey Lena, who represents the Holy See in American civil litigation, released a brief statement Thursday night in response to Mosman’s order.

“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.

Beyond that, Lena declined to comment on what the Vatican’s strategy might be. In general, the Vatican has resisted such demands for discovery, both on First Amendment grounds and because of its status under international law as a sovereign state. Mosman’s ruling on Thursday didn’t directly address those arguments.

In that light, most observers believe it’s unlikely that the Vatican will simply hand over the requested documents. Instead, it’s likely that the Vatican will either file an objection with Mosman, or perhaps appeal the ruling to a higher court.

In the past, Vatican spokespersons have insisted that their reluctance to turn over documents is a matter of principle. In reality, they say, any documents in their possession would show that Ronan was never supervised by the Vatican and that Rome became aware of the charges against him only after the fact.

In comments to the Associated Press, Anderson nevertheless insisted the ruling is a breakthrough.

“It’s the first time anyone's laid a glove on them to the extent they had to turn documents over,” Anderson said.

NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at Disqus.com/verify.
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.

 

Feature-flag_GSR_start-reading.jpg

NCR Email Alerts

 

In This Issue

July 18-31, 2014

07-18-2014_0.jpg

Not all of our content is online. Subscribe to receive all the news and features you won't find anywhere else.