VATICAN CITY — The Vatican today will make its most detailed argument yet for why it is not liable for bishops who allowed priests to molest children in the United States, in a motion that could affect other efforts to sue the Holy See in American courts, the Associated Press has learned.
In a motion to dismiss a lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds, the Holy See is expected to argue that a key Vatican document calling for secrecy in church trials for sex abuse cases was not, as victims' lawyers say, proof of a Vatican-orchestrated coverup. The Vatican's U.S. attorney, Jeffrey Lena, said Sunday there was no evidence the document was even known to the archdiocese in question — much less used.
In addition, the Holy See is expected to assert that bishops aren't Vatican employees because they aren't paid by Rome, don't act on Rome's behalf and aren't controlled day-to-day by the pope — factors courts use to determine whether employers are liable for the actions of their workers, Lena told the AP.
He said he would suggest to the court that it should avoid using the religious nature of the relationship between bishops and the pope altogether as a basis for civil liability, because it entangles the court in an analysis of complicated religious doctrine that dates back to the apostles.
The Holy See is trying to fend off the first U.S. case to reach the stage of determining whether victims actually have a claim against the Vatican itself for negligence for the failure of bishops to alert police or the public about Roman Catholic priests who molested children.
The case was filed in 2004 in district court in Louisville, Ky., by three men who claim they were abused by priests decades ago and claim negligence by the Vatican. Their attorney, William McMurry, is seeking class-action status for the case, saying there are thousands of victims across the country.
The Vatican's motion is being closely watched as the clerical abuse scandal swirls around the Holy See, since the court's eventual decision could have implications for a new lawsuit naming top Vatican officials that was recently filed in Wisconsin and another one in Oregon pending before the Supreme Court.