Portland, Ore. • The Vatican won a major victory Monday in an Oregon federal courtroom, where a judge ruled that the Holy See is not the employer of molester priests.
The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman ends a six-year question in the decade-old case and could shield the Vatican from possible monetary damages.
The original lawsuit was filed in 2002 by a Seattle-area man who said the Rev. Andrew Ronan repeatedly molested him in the late 1960s.
The plaintiffs tried to show that Ronan and all priests are employees of the Vatican and it is therefore liable for their actions.
Mosman made a previous decision strictly on legal theory and determined that if all the facts in the case were true, then the Vatican would indeed by Ronan's employer. But on Monday, Mosman said he looked at the facts in the case and made his decision.
"There are no facts to create a true employment relationship between Ronan and the Holy See," Mosman said in his ruling from the bench.
Plaintiff's attorney Jeff Anderson said he will appeal the decision.
"While we're disappointed of course, we're not discouraged," Anderson said.
The plaintiffs argued that Ronan's fealty to the Pope, the Vatican's ability to promote priests, the Vatican's laicization, or removal, process, and the ability to change priests' training all pointed to the Vatican employing priests.
"We believe that under further scrutiny," Anderson said in a news release, "the courts will find that Vatican protocols and practice make it clear that obedience to Rome required the secrecy and concealment practiced by priests and bishops as the clergy abuse crisis unfolded in the United States."