Vatican Can Be Sued For Priest Sexual Abuse: U.S. Court of Appeals

by John McKiggan

In a landmark ruling, the Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has allowed a lawsuit over alleged sexual abuse by Catholic priests to proceed against the Vatican.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that lawyers for the Vatican tried to strike out the plaintiffs’ lawsuits under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a U.S. federal law that governs when a foreign Country can be sued. The U.S. law contains a number of restrictions that limit the ability to sue a foreign state.

The Cincinnati Court of Appeals confirmed that the Vatican is a foreign state, and therefore eligible for sovereign immunity. However, the court determined that the plaintiffs were able to continue their lawsuit under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act which allows lawsuits for damages caused by “tortious acts” of a foreign State.

The plaintiffs’ law suit claims that U.S. bishops are employees of the Vatican and that the Vatican and bishops have engaged in a coordinated policy of covering up acts of sexual abuse by priests.
You can read the Court of Appeal’s decision here.

Here is Canada, the relevant legislation is the State Immunity Act. The restrictions under Canada’s legislation are not as onerous as the U.S. legislation and the Canadian legislation clearly permits claims for personal injury:

6. A foreign state is not immune from the jurisdiction of a court in any proceedings that relate to
(a) any death or personal or bodily injury, or
(b) any damage to or loss of property that occurs in Canada.

Here in Nova Scotia, Ronald Martin has filed a class action lawsuit against the bishops of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish for sexual abuse perpetrated by various priests who were employed by the Antigonish Diocese between 1950 and 1980.

Related posts:
Documentary Explores Vatican Sexual Abuse Cover Up
Lawyer wants to Question Pope about Sex Abuse Cover Ups
Lawsuit against Vatican can proceed

I have represented hundreds of victims of childhood sexual abuse in claims for compensation. As a public service I have prepared a resource guide for survivors of sexual abuse in Atlantic Canada. You can receive a free copy of this report by contacting me through this blog, or my website at or by calling toll free in Atlantic Canada 1-877-423-2050.

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