Obama administration backs Vatican in pedophile case

May 25 03:55 PM US/Eastern

This picture taken from a terrace in Rome shows a view of Saint Peter’s Bas…

The Obama administration in a brief to the Supreme Court has backed the Vatican’s claim of immunity from lawsuits arising from cases of sexual abuse by priests in the United States.

The Supreme Court is considering an appeal by the Vatican of an appellate court ruling that lifted its immunity in the case of an alleged pedophile priest from Oregon.

In a filing on Friday, the solicitor general’s office argued that the Ninth Circuit court of appeals erred in allowing the lawsuit brought by a man who claims he was sexually abused in the 1960s by the Oregon priest.

The unnamed plaintiff, who cited the Holy See and several other parties as defendants, argued the Vatican should be held responsible for transferring the priest to Oregon and letting him serve there despite previous accusations he had abused children in Chicago and in Ireland.

The solicitor general’s office, which defends the position of President Barack Obama’s administration before the Supreme Court, said the Ninth Circuit improperly found the case to be an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a 1976 federal law that sets limits on when other countries can face lawsuits in US courts.

"Although the decision does not conflict with any decision of another court of appeals, the Court may wish to grant the petition, vacate the judgement of the court of appeals and remand to that court for further consideration".

The case, which was filed in 2002, does not directly address questions raised in a separate lawsuit in Kentucky alleging that US bishops are employees of the Holy See.

But the Vatican plans to argue that Catholic dioceses are run as separate entities from the Holy See, and that the only authority that the pontiff has over bishops around the world is a religious one, according to Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican’s US attorney.

In recent months, large-scale pedophilia scandals have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in a number of countries, including Austria, Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI’s native Germany and the United States.

Senior clerics have been accused of protecting the priests involved by moving them to other parishes — where they sometimes offended again — instead of handing them over to civil authorities for prosecution.

The pope, who has himself faced allegations implicating him in the scandal, has repeatedly said priests and religious workers guilty of child abuse should answer for their crimes in courts of law.

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