California man sues Vatican over priest sex abuse claims

California man sues Vatican over priest sex abuse claims

California man sues Vatican over priest sex abuse claims

The dome of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. (Credit: Paul Haring/CNS.)

A California man who says he was sexually abused by a priest over a five-year period decades ago is suing the Vatican, seeking the names of all offenders within the Church worldwide.

LOS ANGELES  — A California man who says he was sexually abused by a priest over a five-year period decades ago is suing the Vatican, seeking the names of all offenders within the Church worldwide.

The accuser, who’s now 52, reached a settlement with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2007, but his attorneys said Thursday that doesn’t release the Vatican from responsibility.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in California, accuses the Vatican of placing Father Fidencio Silva-Flores in a position of power at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Oxnard west of Los Angeles and says it should have known he posed a danger to children.

“The problem is at the top, and until the problem is addressed at the top, it will continue,” Jeff Anderson, the accuser’s attorney, said in a statement ahead of a news conference announcing the lawsuit.

Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican’s U.S. lawyer, declined to comment.

The lawsuit alleges Silva-Flores sexually abused the accuser when he was a teenager between 1979 and 1984. Silva-Flores was charged with 25 counts of molestation in 2003, but the charges were later dropped because of the amount of time that had passed.

Anderson and other lawyers have tried to sue the Holy See — the government of the Catholic Church — in U.S. courts before. But the Vatican has successfully prevented the litigation from reaching a verdict in part by arguing that it’s immune as a foreign sovereign and that priests aren’t employees of the Vatican.

Anderson’s last major effort alleging Vatican liability for the abuse of a priest was eventually dismissed in federal court in Oregon in 2013.

The new lawsuit comes amid renewed outrage in the U.S. over sex abuse and decades of cover-up by the Catholic hierarchy. A Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of abuse, as well as allegations that a prominent U.S. ex-cardinal was himself an abuser, have created a crisis of confidence in the U.S. and Vatican leadership.

Anderson is now arguing that the California court has jurisdiction over the Holy See because the alleged abuse occurred in the state.

The lawsuit is seeking an order for the Vatican to release the names of abusers in what Anderson said is more than 3,400 credible cases and for the names of anyone found guilty of sexual misconduct to be turned over to law enforcement.

“Defendant Holy See’s practices of retaining, hiding and concealing evidence of crimes of its agents and former agents has endangered numerous children and continues to put children in peril,” the lawsuit said.

For years, advocates for victims have been demanding the Vatican release files about abusive priests. The Vatican in 2001 ordered dioceses around the world to send all their cases to Rome to be reviewed, meaning it has a fairly extensive set of files about individual cases and what was done about them.

The Vatican has refused to release the documents.

Winfield reported from Rome.

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