Lawyer: Vatican thinks it's 'above the law'

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 22, 2011 - 9:37 PM

Jeff Anderson says the historic release of more than 1,800 papers tied to a 2002 sex-abuse case is incomplete.

A St. Paul lawyer on Monday called the Vatican's court-ordered release of more than 1,800 pages of documents "deficient, but revealing."

Jeff Anderson, whose law practice has specialized in abuse lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church for decades, told reporters at a news conference that the documents released last week were a "small fraction" of what was required by a federal judge in an Oregon sex abuse case.

Standing in front of the stack of released papers, Anderson said the documents, written in both English and Latin, show church officials at the highest level knew about the accusations against the priest in the case.

"This is a secretive, deceptive, incomplete production at best," he said, "and in my view, typical of the Vatican's view that they're above the law."

But an attorney for the Vatican, Jeffrey Lena, insisted the Vatican has released everything ordered by the court.

"There's been no withholding of documents," he said.

This is the first time the Vatican has turned over such documents in response to a sex-abuse lawsuit.

Anderson vowed to push for the release of more information.

Anderson is representing an unidentified Oregon man who filed suit in 2002, alleging he was sexually abused as a teenager by the Rev. Andrew Ronan in the mid-1960s.

The priest was reassigned to Oregon after being accused of similar abuses in parishes in Chicago and Ireland. He left the priesthood in 1966 and died in 1992.

Anderson has argued that the Vatican can be sued for sexual abuse if church officials have knowledge about accusations made against priests and reassign them to other parishes.

The Vatican has countered that U.S. courts lack jurisdiction over the church. But a recent appeals court decision ruled the 2002 case falls under an exception for employees acting within the scope of their employment.

Anderson pointed to two letters from 1963 and 1966 that he said highlight the Vatican's pattern of secrecy and desire to avoid scandal.

But Lena said that Anderson is misleading the public with his claims that the letters prove the Vatican knew about and covered up the accusations involving Ronan.

The letters, Lena argued, prove that although the people in Ronan's order, the Friar Servants of Mary, knew about Ronan's abuse allegations, the Vatican didn't until the order petitioned for him to be removed of his priestly duties.

"He's making a connection between the order, which has its headquarters in Rome, and the Holy See," Lena said. "The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has already been very clear that you can't attribute a knowledge of the order to the Holy See."

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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