The Vatican, struggling to control the damage to its image from a sexual abuse scandal, said yesterday it would prove it cannot be held legally responsible for a predatory priest in a pivotal U.S. lawsuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider a case this week on whether the Vatican has immunity over the sexual abuse of minors by priests, allowing a lawsuit filed in 2002 to go forward.

In a statement, the Vatican’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, said when the case returns to a U.S. district court it would show it cannot be held responsible for the actions of the priest as he was not a Vatican employee.


“The decision not to hear the case is not a comment on the merits of our case,” Lena said. The case now goes back to the district court in Oregon.

The lawsuit, filed against the Vatican by a plaintiff identified only as John Doe, claimed he was sexually abused on several occasions in the mid-1960s when he was 15 or 16 by a Roman Catholic priest named Father Andrew Ronan.

According to court documents, Ronan molested boys in the mid-1950s as a priest in Ireland and then in Chicago before his transfer to a church in Portland, Ore., where he allegedly abused the victim who filed the lawsuit. Ronan died in 1992.

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