A US court has delivered a landmark ruling that the Vatican cannot be held legally liable for the activities of a paedophile priest.
In a 10-year legal battle, an alleged victim of deceased priest Andrew Ronan had sought to have the Vatican held legally responsible.
The decision could shield the Vatican from possible damages claims.
The alleged victim claimed the Vatican was liable because senior officials in Rome knew of the priest's previous record of abuse while a teacher at the Servites' Our Lady of Benburb Priory in Co Tyrone -- and before he was moved to Chicago and then Portland.
The now 60-year-old man, who claimed he was assaulted by Ronan in the early 1960s in Portland and was named as John V Doe in court documents, argued that the Vatican was Ronan's employer. According to church documents, Ronan, who was laicised at the time of his death in 1992, admitted sexually assaulting children in Ireland, Chicago and Oregon.
He was a member of the Servite Order and worked at various schools, including Our Lady of Benburb College.
However, US District Court Judge Michael Mosman ruled this week that the Vatican could not be regarded as Ronan's employer.
The case was important not only because it was the first attempt made to hold the Vatican directly responsible for moving Ronan to different dioceses, where he continued to abuse children, but also because the Holy See was ordered by a court to hand over documents it held in its vaults, again a first.
"There are no facts to create a true employment relationship between Ronan and the Holy See," said Judge Mosman in his ruling.
John V Doe's lawyer, Jeff Anderson, said he was saddened and disappointed by the ruling but will be appealing it and "we expect to prevail".
"We believe that under further scrutiny the courts will find that Vatican protocols and practice make it clear that obedience to Rome required the secrecy, and concealment practised by priests and bishops as the clergy abuse crisis unfolded in the United States," he said in a statement.
Irish campaigner Andrew Madden said last night the American ruling was not surprising.
"At Vatican level, every effort is made to avoid taking responsibility and that extends to priests who are employees of the church globally," he said.
However, he added there was a significant judgment in England recently in which a court ruled that diocesan priests were employees of the diocese and the diocese was therefore vicariously responsible for the priest's conduct.