The Vatican is stepping up its defense against a U.S. lawsuit that could find the Holy See responsible for sexual abuse committed by American priests.
The door was left open for that possibility on Monday, when U.S. Supreme Court justices passed on hearing an appeal from a lower federal court that said priests could be considered Vatican employees.
The original suit comes from Oregon, where a plaintiff identified only as John Doe claimed to have been sexually abused in the 1960s, when he was 15 or 16 years of age, by a Roman Catholic priest. The lawsuit accuses the Vatican of transferring the priest from city to city despite repeated accusations of abuse, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
The Vatican's lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, released a statement today saying the U.S. high court's refusal to hear the appeal "is not a comment on the merits of our case."
When it goes back to Oregon, attorneys representing the Church "will, of course, point out to the district court that the priest in question is not an employee of the Holy See, and that, therefore, the district court does not have jurisdiction over the case," Lena said in the statement.
The Vatican had claimed immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 that protects foreign states from being sued in U.S. courts.