The Vatican published on-line some internal files about a priest accused of molesting youngsters in Ireland and the U.S. in advance of a deadline set by an Oregon federal district court judge. The plaintiff's lawyers demanded the documents in a lawsuit in which a victim of sexual abuse is attempting to hold the Holy See vicariously liable for the action of a now deceased priest. The move may be designed to avoid turning over more documents in the discovery phase of the trial.
The files published on the website of Vatican Radio 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 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 Doe's lawyers 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.
The Vatican said the files, a few dozen pages, some handwritten and culled from its internal books, represented the full, known documentation held in the Vatican specifically about Ronan. It said they prove that the Vatican only learned of Ronan's crimes 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 abuse against Doe occurred.
According to Religion Clause, the public releases of the documents may have been designed to head off having to produce them in discovery.
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 1963 letter written by the Chicago-based provincial of the Order of Servants of Mary to the order's headquarters in Rome 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.
While the letter does not mention Vatican involvement in the transfer, it clearly implicates the Servites in placing a known child molester in a Chicago high school, St. Philip's. The provincial, whose name is illegible, wrote that after transferring Ronan from Ireland to Chicago, "I am expecting the worst any day here at St. Philip's but much better that it occur here than in a seminary."