On Monday, The Holy See won an important court victory when a federal judge in Oregon decided that priests are not employees of the Vatican, as plaintiff attorneys suing the Catholic Church had long argued in an important case that was filed over a decade ago.
In April 2002, lawyers Jeff Anderson and Marci Hamilton filed suit against the Holy See on behalf of "John V. Doe," who asserted he that had been abused by Andrew Ronan, a priest who was laicized in 1966 and died in 1992.
Anderson and Hamilton argued that the Vatican should be held liable for John Doe's damages for abuse because Catholic priests are "employees" of the Vatican. But Judge Michael Mosman of the United States District Court in Oregon shot down that claim and outright dismissed the Plaintiff's case.
A good analogy
In granting the Holy See's motion to dismiss the case, Judge Mosman asserted, "There are no facts to create a true employment relationship between Ronan and the Holy See."
Rather, the relationship between a priest and the Vatican is more like the relationship between a lawyer and the state bar. The bar can license, sanction, and disbar attorneys, but by no means is that relationship equivalent to that of an employer and an employee.
Doyle and Wall defeated
Trying to make the case for the Plaintiff that priests are "employees" of the Vatican were dissident Dominican priest Rev. Thomas Doyle, who has worked as a canon lawyer, and Patrick Wall, an employee of Jeff Anderson.
In the end, Judge Mosman did not buy the men's arguments at all.
In addition, in court documents, veteran canon lawyer Dr. Edward N. Peters effectively dismantled and shredded the pair's legal wranglings. Peters flatly determined that their work was "incomplete and misleading in several crucial respects" and contained a number of "significant" mistakes and errors.
The impact of Monday's ruling cannot be overstated. Had the Vatican lost this case, it likely would have faced major monetary damages. A flood of other cases would certainly have followed, and the result of that would be obvious.
And if the Vatican had lost the case, surely it would have been a major story in the media.
Instead, the New York Times rendered this important verdict a modest 145 words on page A11.
Likewise, a lot of news outlets did not give this important decision much attention. The Los Angeles Times, for one, did not even report this important story at all.