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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 07:04 GMT 08:04 UK
Vatican sued in sex abuse cases
St Peter's in Rome
The Vatican "ordered bishops to keep quiet"
Two men in the US have begun legal action against the Vatican and three American Roman Catholic dioceses for their alleged role in covering up cases of child sex abuse.

The lawsuits allege that the Church protected priests who had been accused of molesting children in Florida and Oregon by transferring them to other states - and even other countries - to avoid prosecution.


All roads lead to the Vatican

Lawyer Jeff Anderson
Pope John Paul II is not specifically named as a defendant in the allegations by the two men, who say they were abused as teenagers.

The lawyer who filed the cases said he had evidence implicating the Vatican, but experts believe the unusual naming of the Holy See - which has diplomatic immunity - is designed for publicity.

A nun carrying the Vatican flag
The Vatican is facing a growing scandal over paedophile priests
Jeff Anderson, the plaintiffs' attorney in both lawsuits, said the Vatican had issued a policy for bishops and dioceses to cover up sexual misconduct cases.

"All the roads lead to the Vatican," he said.

"The Vatican is ordering bishops across the country to keep this secret.

"We have to do this because the children in the schools, in the dioceses, are not being protected by the Church," he said.

Damages

The lawsuit was filed amid a growing scandal over paedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Church after the former Boston-area priest, John Geoghan, was convicted of fondling a child and was alleged to have abused more than 130 other people.

The Florida lawsuit was filed by Rick Gomez, who alleged he was abused by the Reverend William Burke in 1987 at Mary Help Christian School in Tampa when he was 14.

Mr Anderson said Reverend Burke is still a priest in New Jersey.

The case also names the Diocese of St Petersburg and the Salesians of Don Bosco, Reverend Burke's order when he was at the school. It seeks damages in excess of $15,000.


We are sorry... for the unspeakable violation of the youth whom we have harmed rather than served

Salesians of Don Bosco

The Diocese of St Petersburg said in a statement it felt it should not be a party to the lawsuit because it had no authority over Reverend Burke or his order.

The Salesians of Don Bosco apologised for the actions of some of their members but did not specifically comment on the lawsuit.

"We are sorry for the sexual misconduct of some of our members, for the unspeakable violation of the youth whom we have harmed rather than served," the Salesians' statement said.

'Dark shadow'

The Oregon lawsuit was filed in Portland on behalf of a plaintiff identified only as John Doe, who says he was molested at the age of 15 by the Reverend Andrew Ronan, who has since died.

The Oregon suit also named the archdioceses of Portland and Chicago and the Order of the Friar Servants of Mary. It seeks damages of more than $75,000.

The suit alleges that Reverend Ronan was transferred from Ireland to Chicago and then to Portland after abusing young boys.

Last month the Pope broke his silence on allegations rocking the church about sexual abuse of children, saying they were casting a "dark shadow of suspicion" over all priests.

See also:

21 Mar 02 | Europe
Pope denounces 'evil' sex priests
12 Mar 02 | Americas
Church agrees sex abuse payout
15 Jun 01 | Europe
Crisis in the confessional
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