Vatican releases priest work files


In an unprecedented move, the Vatican has published its internal files on an Irish priest accused of molesting boys in Ireland and the United States.

In an accompanying statement, a lawyer for the Holy See also condemned “those people who are too quick to make sensational and unfair comments” about its involvement in clerical sexual abuse.

This was perceived in some quarters to be targeted at Taoiseach Enda Kenny over his trenchant criticism of the Vatican in the Dáil last month.

The files, published on the website of Vatican Radio yesterday, are part of documentation the Holy See plans to turn over to US lawyers representing an American who says he was abused by the late Fr Andrew Ronan over 40 years ago.

The case is seen to have implications for the Vatican’s international exposure to clerical sex abuse claims.

Known in court papers as John V Doe, the victim is seeking to hold the Vatican liable for allegedly being abused by Fr Ronan in 1965 or early 1966 when he was 15 or 16 years old.

The Vatican said the files proved that it had only learned of the accusations against Fr Ronan in 1966, after the alleged abuse had occurred.

John V Doe’s lawyer, Jeffrey Anderson of St Paul, Minnesota, took the action on his behalf, alleging that when Fr Ronan was assigned in 1955 and 1956 to Our Lady of Benburb, Servite Priory, Co Tyrone, in the archdiocese of Armagh, he molested a youth there.

It is alleged that in 1963 or 1964, Fr Ronan was removed to St Phillip’s boys school in Chicago, where it is claimed he molested three boys. The priest was transferred in 1965 to Portland, Oregon, where John V Doe, raised in a devout Catholic family, had him as his spiritual adviser.

Fr Ronan left the priesthood in 1966 when allegations of his sexual misconduct surfaced in Portland. He died in 1992.

In June 2010, the case came before the US supreme court, which refused an appeal by the Vatican to halt the legal action after the Holy See argued that a sovereign state was generally immune from law suits.

The court ruled that the lawsuit had sufficiently alleged that Fr Ronan was an employee of the Vatican acting within the scope of his employment under Oregon law.

Last April a federal judge in Portland ordered the Vatican to respond to certain requests for information from John Doe’s lawyers by tomorrow, the first time the Holy See has been forced to turn over documentation in a sex abuse case.

The documentation includes the 1966 case file with Fr Ronan’s request to be laicised, after his superiors learned of accusations that he had molested minors in Ireland.

Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena said yesterday the Vatican was releasing “all known documents relating to Ronan held by the Roman Curia” to help the Oregon court determine a remaining jurisdictional question in the case: whether the priest was an employee of the Holy See.

However, none of the files released relates directly to the employment question.

While Mr Lena’s suggestion that the files should help “calm down those people who are too quick to make sensational and unfair comments without taking the time to get an adequate understanding of the facts”was seen in some US media reports yesterday as a veiled criticism of the Taoiseach, Mr Lena also specifically criticised Mr Anderson in his statement.

The attorney never had any evidence to support his “calumnious accusations” that the Vatican itself had transferred Fr Ronan to Portland while knowing that he posed a danger to minors, said Mr Lena.

Mr Anderson has filed hundreds of lawsuits against priests and dioceses in the US concerning clerical sex abuse. In addition to the Portland case he has named the Holy See as a defendant in two other US lawsuits, in Milwaukee and Chicago.

Last night Mr Anderson said he would “reserve comment until the document production is received and reviewed”.