- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Three men who said they were sexually abused by priests when they were children can seek damages from the Vatican in a negligence lawsuit, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II lets the men pursue their claim that top church officials should have warned the public or local authorities of known or suspected sexual abuse of children by priests in the Archdiocese of Louisville.

William McMurry, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said the ruling could open the way to take depositions of Vatican officials and to get copies of church records and documents.

“Our whole purpose is to hold the Vatican accountable,” Mr. McMurry said.

Many lawsuits stemming from the U.S. clergy sex-abuse crisis have named the pope, the Vatican and other high-ranking church officials but have failed.

The Holy See is typically immune from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts under the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act. Plaintiffs’ lawyers who have sought to challenge that protection often could not serve Vatican officials with the legal papers, among other logistical problems.

But Judge Heyburn dismissed claims that the Holy See was negligent by failing to protect children entrusted to the clergy. He also threw out claims of deceit and misrepresentation by the Vatican.

Jeffrey Lena, a California-based attorney for the Vatican, said the ruling was in many respects favorable to the Holy See because the remaining accusations rely on the unproved assumption that U.S. bishops act as agents of the Vatican. He predicted that claim would not be borne out as the case proceeds.

Vatican officials declined to comment.

Mr. McMurry is seeking to have the lawsuit certified as a class action, arguing that there are thousands of victims nationwide. Mr. McMurry represented 243 sex abuse victims that settled with the Archdiocese of Louisville in 2003 for $25.3 million.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

One of the three plaintiffs is Michael Turner of Louisville, who also filed the first lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Louisville. Mr. Turner was molested by the Rev. Louis E. Miller in the 1970s while attending St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley.

Miller was removed from the priesthood after pleading guilty in 2003 to sexually abusing Mr. Turner and other children in Kentucky. He is serving a 13-year prison sentence.

The other two plaintiffs, James H. O’Bryan and Donald E. Poppe, have not settled with any diocese, Mr. McMurry has said. Both live in California and say they were abused by priests while growing up in Louisville.

In June, a federal court in Oregon issued a similar decision, ruling there was enough of a link between the Vatican and an accused priest for him to be considered a Vatican employee under Oregon law. That ruling has been appealed.

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