VATICAN CITY — The Vatican, reeling from unprecedented criticism over its handling of sexual abuse cases in Ireland, took a pre-emptive strike Wednesday and published some internal files about a priest accused of molesting youngsters in Ireland and the U.S.
The files published on the Vatican Radio website represent a small, selective part of the documentation the Holy See must turn over to U.S. lawyers representing a man who says he was abused by the Rev. Andrew Ronan, who died in 1992.
A federal judge in Portland, Ore., ordered the Vatican to respond to certain requests for information from Mr. Doe’s attorneys by Friday, the first time the Holy See has been forced to turn over documentation in a sex abuse case.
The partial documentation released Wednesday includes the 1966 case file with Ronan’s request to be laicized, or removed from the clerical state, after his superiors learned of accusations that he had molested minors in Ireland.
It said they prove the Vatican learned of the accusations against Ronan in 1966, when his order sent Ronan’s personnel files to Rome and asked the pope to remove him from the priesthood a year after the reported abuse of Mr. Doe occurred.
More documentation is expected to be handed over to Mr. Doe’s attorneys by Friday because the judge’s discovery order also requires the Vatican to provide information about its general policies handling sex abuse cases and how it trains, educates, selects and removes priests. Much of it is expected to be in Latin.
The Vatican’s decision to publish the Ronan discovery documentation online marks an unusual attempt at some transparency, particularly given the sensitivity surrounding internal personnel files of accused priests.
Victims groups have long denounced the secrecy with which the Vatican handles abuse cases and demanded that the files of known abusers be released.
But the decision was made amid unprecedented criticism of the Vatican’s handling of sex abuse cases in Ireland as it still seeks to recover from the fallout over the abuse scandal that erupted last year.
Thousands of people in Europe and elsewhere reported that they were raped and molested by priests as children while bishops covered up the crimes and the Vatican turned a blind eye.
Last month, an independent report into the Irish diocese of Cloyne accused the Vatican of sabotaging efforts by Irish Catholic bishops to report clerical sex abuse cases to police.
The accusations prompted Irish lawmakers to make an unprecedented denunciation of the Holy See’s influence in the predominantly Catholic country, with heated words in particular from Prime Minister Enda Kenny.