Victims seek final European ruling on Vatican immunity

Clergy abuse victims ask European Court of Human Rights for final ruling on whether Holy See can continue to avoid responsibility for sexual abuse of Catholic priests

ROME – Victims of clergy abuse asked the European Court of Human Rights Thursday for a final ruling on whether the Holy See can continue to avoid responsibility for sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests by claiming state immunity.

After a lower chamber decision in October agreed that the Vatican could not sue in a local Belgian court because it enjoys sovereign immunity, lawyers for the victims asked the court’s grand division to hear the case. The lower verdict was in line with the Belgian court, which dismissed the case, also determined that the clergy’s misconduct could not be blamed on the Holy See.

The 24 victims have argued that the Holy See is indeed responsible for their abuse because of the “structurally flawed” way the Catholic hierarchy has handled decades of cases of priests who raped and molested children, covering up crimes rather than reporting them.

In the new filing, lawyers for the victims said the October ruling was flawed and the case needed a full Chamber-wide review, especially as it would affect victims of clergy abuse across Europe. According to the European Court of Human Rights website, the Grand Chamber is made up of 17 judges and accepts requests to review the Chamber’s judgement in “extraordinary circumstances”.

There is no indication when the Grand Inquisition will decide whether to hear the case.

Lawyers say the case meets the court’s standard of review because it touches on sensitive issues that have sparked public debate and touches on legal issues that the court has not previously addressed.

The key question, they argue, is whether the Holy See — the headquarters of global religions — should enjoy the immunities granted to nation-states while escaping responsibilities as a true state.