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Judge dismisses child sex-abuse case that accused Vatican

CHICAGO -- A U.S. federal judge in Oregon on Monday dismissed a clergy sexual abuse case that was the first to try to hold the Vatican responsible for moving an offending priest into unsuspecting parishes, lawyers in the case said.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman in Portland, Oregon, ruled the Holy See in Rome could not be shown to be the "employer" of the late Father Andrew Ronan, who abused children in Chicago and later in Portland.

Church officials in Chicago knew that Ronan, who ultimately left the priesthood and died in 1992, had a history of sexual abuse, but he continued to abuse after he was transferred to Oregon, court documents showed.

Mosman had previously ordered the Vatican to provide all the relevant documents in Ronan's case but he ultimately concluded the Holy See did not belong in the case.

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"There is no fact in the record on which to base an employment relationship," Jeffrey Luna, a lawyer for the Vatican in the United States, said in summarizing the judge's ruling.

The Oregonian newspaper quoted Luna as saying the ruling was "quite significant ... because the Holy See has patiently and cooperatively worked with the American judicial process to arrive at this day."

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When confronted about the abuse, Ronan admitted it to his superiors at Our Lady of Benburb, Ireland, according to the documents, but was transferred to a Chicago high school anyway. He abused children there, the documents show, then was transferred to St. Albert's Church in Portland.

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"It's clearly a disappointment, but we're definitely not discouraged," plaintiffs' attorney Jeff Anderson said according to The Oregonian.

Anderson, who has represented scores of victims of clergy abuse, said he would appeal Mosman's dismissal of the case on behalf of the now 60-year-old victim. 

"He is eager to keep this alive, to hold the Vatican accountable for their role in this," Anderson said of the unidentified plaintiff. The Portland diocese and the Servite Order of priests are also defendants in the case.

When it was filed in Portland, the lawsuit was heralded by clergy abuse victims as the first to require the Vatican to produce documents detailing its involvement in an American priest's career path, which Rome did.

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Numerous other lawsuits alleging clergy abuse have named the Vatican as a defendant, usually accusing the Holy See of negligence in allowing offending clergy to remain in the priesthood.

The clergy abuse crisis exploded in Boston more than a decade ago and spread around the world. The church in the United States has paid out more than $2 billion in settlements to victims.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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