VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican, reeling from unprecedented criticism over its handling of sexual abuse cases in Ireland, took the unusual step Wednesday of publishing its internal files about a priest accused of molesting youngsters in Ireland and the United States.
The files published on the website of Vatican Radio are part of the documentation the Holy See plans to turn over to U.S. lawyers representing a man who says he was abused by the late Rev. Andrew Ronan. The man, known in court papers as John V. Doe, is seeking to hold the Vatican liable for the abuse.
A federal judge in Portland, Ore., ordered the Vatican to respond to certain requests for information from Mr. Doe's lawyers by Friday, 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 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.
The Vatican said Wednesday that the documentation culled from the Vatican's internal personnel files proved that it had learned of the accusations against Ronan only in 1966, after the abuse against Mr. Doe occurred.
The Vatican's decision to publish a selection of the discovery documentation on its website comes amid unprecedented criticism of its handling of sex abuse cases in Ireland and as it still seeks to recover from the fallout over the abuse scandal that erupted last year. Thousands of people in Europe and elsewhere have reported 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.
In a statement accompanying the document release Wednesday, Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena said the Vatican's documentation 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" — an apparent reference to Mr. Kenny's denunciation.
The Vatican recalled its ambassador to Ireland over the ruckus to help prepare an official response, which is expected in the coming weeks.
According to the Holy See, the documentation released Wednesday includes the 1966 case file held by the Vatican's office for members of religious orders, known at the time as the Sacred Congregation for Religious, containing documents in English, Italian and Latin related to Ronan's request to be laicized.
The file contains a letter written by the Chicago-based provincial of the Order of Servants of Mary detailing accusations that Ronan had abused students while he was a teacher at the Servites' Our Lady of Benburb Priory in Ireland.
The provincial wrote that he had "removed" Ronan immediately from Ireland after discovering the abuse accusations in 1959. Ronan began working in Chicago and was later transferred to Portland. He died in 1992.
Mr. Lena said in a statement that the files show that the Holy See didn't learn of the accusations against Ronan until 1966, after the abuse against Mr. Doe occurred in Portland and after the laicization request was sent to Rome.
He said the Vatican was releasing "all known documents relating to Ronan held by the Roman Curia" to help the Oregon court determine the remaining jurisdictional question in the case: whether Ronan was an employee of the Holy See, which is critical to determining whether the Vatican can be held liable for the abuse Doe endured.
None of the documents released Wednesday relate directly to that core employment question. Rather, they support the Vatican's contention that it had no prior knowledge of Ronan's crimes before 1966, that it wasn't responsible for transferring him to the U.S. or to Portland, and isn't liable for the abuse Doe suffered.
Mr. Lena said Mr. Doe's lawyer, Jeffrey Anderson, never had any evidence to support his "calumnious accusations" that the Vatican itself had transferred Ronan to Portland while knowing that he posed a danger to minors.
Mr. Doe's lawyers, Mr. Lena said, "have nonetheless chosen to misuse the legal system as a vehicle to pursue a broader agenda — a decision that has misled the public and wasted considerable resources."
Mr. Anderson has filed hundreds of lawsuits against priests and dioceses in the United States concerning priestly sex abuse; in addition to the Portland case, he has named the Holy See as a defendant in two other U.S. lawsuits, in Milwaukee and Chicago.
Email requests seeking comment from Mr. Anderson weren't immediately returned.