Lawyers in Oregon case seek to question top Vatican officials about priests, sexual abuse

Lawyers for a man who wants to hold the Vatican accountable for the priest who molested him in the 1960s asked a federal judge Wednesday to allow them to question top cardinals.

The lawyers filed papers outlining requests for depositions from Cardinal William Levada and others. Levada heads the office that defrocks pedophile priests.

The man known in court documents as John V. Doe filed suit eight years ago. No trial date is set.

Recent legal arguments have centered on whether the Vatican is actually the employer of the priest, the Rev. Andrew Ronan.

A ruling that it is could allow the suit to proceed under a U.S. law that governs how sovereign states such as the Vatican can be sued. Many of the issues may wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June refused to hear one Vatican appeal.

The Vatican's lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman of Portland again Wednesday to dismiss the case. Their filing promised supporting documents that were not immediately available.

The Vatican has argued it wasn't responsible for Ronan or his multiple transfers. Amid allegations of sexual abuse, court documents say, Ronan was transferred from Ireland to Chicago and then to Portland, where he abused the victim in the Oregon case. Ronan died in 1992.

Last month, three men dropped a Kentucky lawsuit that tried to link the Vatican to the abuse scandal.

The papers filed Wednesday in Portland contend the Vatican controls how priests are hired, educated, disciplined and removed.

The documents cite correspondence in the 1980s with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who was then in charge of the disciplinary office that Levada holds.

"This evidence goes directly to the Holy See's control over individual priests, specifically showing that the Holy See (pope) is the only one that can remove a priest," one of the documents said.

Lawyer Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., said in an interview he has not ruled out asking for a deposition from the pope. "You don't start there. You may end up there," he said. "You go up the ladder."

Besides Levada, once the archbishop of San Francisco and Portland, Anderson is seeking to question Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, and his predecessor, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

In papers filed earlier this summer, Vatican lawyers said hundreds of documents from Catholic officials showed that U.S. officials of the priest's order "knew of Ronan's propensities and transferred Ronan," but the Holy See "had no prior knowledge regarding Ronan" and no role in moving him.