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Vatican Can Be Sued Over Abuse, 9th Circuit Rules

(CN) - The 9th Circuit ruled that the Vatican's immunity against allegations of sexual abuse is limited, because abuse could fall under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act's exception for "discretionary acts."

John Doe filed a federal lawsuit in Oregon, claiming he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest when he was 15 or 16 years old.

The Holy See moved to dismiss Doe's liability claims on the basis of immunity as a foreign sovereign.

The district court ruled that the Holy See must answer most of Doe's claims due to the tortious act exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

In a per-curiam decision, the San Francisco-based federal appeals court ruled in the Vatican's favor on Doe's vicarious liability claim, ruling that the Vatican was not responsible for the acts of the Chicago Bishop, the Portland Archdiocese, and the Order of the Friar Servants, of which the priest was a member.

"Although the district court held that Doe's negligence complaint claims could proceed under the FSIA's tortious act exception, we conclude that they cannot," the judges ruled, "because the FSIA preserves immunity for discretionary acts."

However, the Holy See does have respondeat superior liability, the judges ruled, because the priest, Father Ronan, was acting within the scope of his employment.

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