Plaintiffs give up sex abuse case against Vatican

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Associated Press
09 August 2010

By DYLAN T. LOVAN (AP)  

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Three men who sought to hold the Vatican liable in an American court for sexual abuses by Roman Catholic priests are abandoning the case, according to a court motion filed Monday. 

Lawyers looked to question Pope Benedict XVI under oath but had to leap the high legal hurdle of the Vatican’s sovereign immunity status in the U.S. 

The Kentucky lawsuit was considered the first in the U.S. to make it to the stage of determining whether victims had a negligence claim against the Vatican. The Vatican argued that the plaintiffs never showed a connection between Rome and the American clergy abuse scandal. 

The plaintiffs filed a motion on Monday asking a federal judge in Louisville to dismiss their claims. 

Their attorney, William McMurry, said he was seeking to end the case because of the Vatican’s immunity and failure to turn up new plaintiffs who haven’t yet been involved in a Catholic clergy abuse case. 

“Virtually every child who was abused and will come forward as an adult has come forward and sued a bishop and collected money, and once that happens, it’s over,” McMurry told The Associated Press. McMurry represented more than 240 abuse victims who settled with the Louisville Catholic archdiocese for $25 million in 2003. 

An attorney for the Vatican, which is referred to in the lawsuit as the Holy See, said the lawsuit lacked merit. 

“This development confirms that, contrary to what the plaintiffs’ lawyers repeatedly told the media, there has never been a Holy See policy requiring concealment of child sexual abuse,” attorney Jeffrey Lena said in a statement. “The theory crafted by the plaintiffs’ lawyers six years ago misled the American public.” 

“That the case against the Holy See always lacked merit does not mean that the plaintiffs themselves did not suffer as a result of sexual abuse,” Lena said. “But bringing this case only distracted from the important goal of protecting children from harm.” 

The judge must still rule on whether the case can be dismissed, but attorneys on both sides say it has virtually ended. 

McMurry wrote in the dismissal motion that an earlier court ruling that recognized the Vatican’s immunity allowed the plaintiffs to proceed on the narrow argument that U.S. bishops are officials or employees of the Vatican. 

McMurry said because of the court’s determination, “the grant of jurisdiction was so narrow that it’s meaningless.” 

The Vatican has argued that its U.S. bishops act independently, control their own budgets and are not employees of the Holy See. 

McMurry said one of the plaintiffs, Michael J. Turner, was involved in the 2003 settlement against the Louisville archdiocese, which voided his ability to seek a claim from the Vatican. Two other plaintiffs, James O’Bryan and Donald Poppe, alleged abuses that occurred several decades ago. 

“In both cases the bishops in question are deceased and further discovery regarding the bishops’ actions is believed to be impossible,” the motion said. 

McMurry said a months-long search for new victims who haven’t settled in a clergy abuse case failed to find any willing to come forward. 

“No one who has not sued a bishop is in a position to help us despite our best efforts over the past several months,” McMurry said. 

A separate American claim in Oregon against the Vatican is making its way through the federal courts after the U.S. Supreme Court refused in June to hear an appeal from the Holy See. The suit was filed in 2002 by a Seattle-area man who said a priest molested him in the late 1960s. Attorneys in that suit are also arguing that priests are Vatican employees for the purpose of American law. 

Associated Press Writer Teresa Wasson contributed to this report.

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Kentucky plaintiffs give up sex abuse case against Vatican

courier-journal.com

August 9, 2010

By Peter Smith • psmith@courier-journal.com •

Three Kentucky natives have dropped their long-running lawsuit against the Vatican, admitting they face “insurmountable hurdles” to collecting damages for what they continue to insist was a top-level coverup of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. 

The three men filed a motion to dismiss the case on Monday in U.S. District Court in Louisville.

They had originally filed the lawsuit in 2004, seeking class-action status on behalf of the thousands of victims of clergy sexual abuse across the United States and alleging secret Vatican policies of the past two centuries had required a coverup of abuse.

But despite advertising by their attorney, William McMurry, they were unable to find more plaintiffs willing to join their case, McMurry told The Associated Press.

While the judge and an appeals court allowed the case to proceed on narrow grounds, plaintiffs’ attorney William McMurry said in a court filing on Monday the courts had dealt a fatal blow to the case by declaring the Vatican to be immune from most of the lawsuit because it is a sovereign nation.

The refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider that ruling sealed the case’s fate, McMurry conceded.

It left only one option for the three plaintiffs, who had alleged abuse between the 1920s and 1970s: to prove that Roman Catholic bishops, acting on U.S. soil, were acting as employees of the Vatican and were carrying out Vatican orders to cover up sexual abuse.

The two sides had been sparring for months in court documents about whether bishops, who are bound to follow church authority but have broad discretion in how they run their dioceses, were really Vatican employees. And they disagreed over whether church policy really mandated bishops to cover up cases of sexual abuse by priests.

Plaintiff Michael Turner dropped his case because, by already settling with the Archdiocese of Louisville in 2003 over abuse by a priest, he had effectively released the Vatican of liability for actions by Louisville bishops.

The other two plaintiffs, James O’Bryan and Donald Poppe, dropped their cases because the abuse happened under archbishops who are now dead, and “further discovery regarding the bishops’ actions is believed to be impossible.”

But the plaintiffs got in some parting shots in their dismissal, saying their case fell apart on legal but not factual grounds, a contention the Vatican disputed all along in court filings.

“The Holy See’s actions had the predictable impact of preventing United States bishops from exposing pedophilic priests and reporting instances of childhood sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities, resulting in the sexual abuse of thousands of United States children,” the plaintiffs’ filing said.

In previous filings, Vatican lawyers have said the church did not have a mandated policy and noted the plaintiffs themselves had failed to unearth any documents showing bishops were following Vatican orders in systematically covering up sexual abuse.

McMurry’s attempts to put Pope Benedict XVI on the witness stand never made headway during the six years the case slowly progressed.

An attorney for the Vatican, referred to in the lawsuit as the Holy See, said the lawsuit lacked merit.

“This development confirms that, contrary to what the plaintiffs’ lawyers repeatedly told the media, there has never been a Holy See policy requiring concealment of child sexual abuse,” attorney Jeffrey Lena said in a statement. “The theory crafted by the plaintiffs’ lawyers six years ago misled the American public.”

Lena added: “That the case against the Holy See always lacked merit does not mean that the plaintiffs themselves did not suffer as a result of sexual abuse.

“But bringing this case only distracted from the important goal of protecting children from harm.”

A separate American claim against the Vatican in Oregon is headed for trial in federal court after the U.S. Supreme Court refused in June to hear an appeal from the Holy See. That suit was filed in 2002 by a Seattle-area man who said a priest molested him in the late 1960s. Attorneys in that lawsuit also are arguing priests are Vatican employees for the purpose of American law.

Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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