Sex Abuse Victims Sue Vatican

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  May 15, 2019   

Attorney Jeff Anderson invokes Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

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MINNEAPOLIS ( - Five survivors of clerical sex abuse are suing the Vatican to obtain complete transparency on the part of the Holy See.

Representing the victims, attorney Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minnesota filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday and held a press conference the same day during which he explained the demands of the suit.

This lawsuit, said Anderson, is asking the U.S. federal court to require the Vatican to "reveal and disclose all the names of all the offenders that the Vatican has and knows to be across the globe that remains secret to this day."

On his website, Anderson outlines the transparency he's seeking from the Vatican at the behest of federal court:

  • Release all the identities of thousands of offenders known exclusively by the Vatican and held in strict secrecy
  • Release the files and pertinent histories of the thousands of offenders
  • Release identities of top officials accused of sexual abuse worldwide, including histories of each known only by the Vatican
  • Report all evidence held secretly in its possession in the papal office of clerical crimes to law enforcement worldwide

Because the Vatican has foreign nation status, it is typically exempt from lawsuits originating in various countries including the United States. Exceptions to this exempt status, however, stem from the 1976 U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and includes wrongful acts perpetrated against U.S. citizens and commercial enterprises undertaken by foreign countries.

Anderson's office has sued the Vatican twice before but said he's optimistic that this time they have the right plaintiffs with the right case.

"We have developed a body of evidence that demonstrates that all roads lead to Rome," Anderson said.

This path leading to Rome Anderson sets forth in a timeline that dates back to 1922.

It highlights a United Nations Convention in 2014 that found the Holy See had "refused to cooperate and obstructed efforts to address the problem" involving the "sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children." The timeline also notes the Vatican in 2018 prevented the U.S. bishops at their general assembly from implementing procedures to punish bishops who cover up sex abuse.

We have developed a body of evidence that demonstrates that all roads lead to Rome.

The plaintiffs include three Hoffman brothers, who were all victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer of the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis then under the leadership of Abp. John Nienstedt.

Nienstedt reinstated Wehmeyer after his predecessor, Abp. Harry Flynn, had removed him in 2004 from active ministry after his evaluation at a treatment center for troubled priests diagnosed him with a sexual disorder. Nienstedt promoted Wehmeyer to pastor in 2009 where he went on to abuse the three Hoffman brothers.

After the boys' mother reported Wehmeyer for abusing her sons, he was arrested and subsequently plead guilty to criminal sexual assault. Local prosecutors for the first time in history filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for failing to protect children.

Neinstedt alleged that he had never protected Wehmeyer but Church Militant has obtained nearly 1,000 pages of documents including police reports and sworn affidavits alleging that Neinstedt was an active homosexual and was in a "social relationship" with Wehmeyer.

The same day this lawsuit was filed in court, six dioceses in California set up a new victims' compensation program. One of the five plaintiffs in the Anderson lawsuit, Manuel Vega, alleges that he was abused by Fr. Fidencio Silva-Flores of the archdiocese of Los Angeles. Earlier this month, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that he was expanding his investigation of clerical sex abuse to all 12 dioceses in California.

The archdiocese of Los Angeles was one of six dioceses of the 12 being investigated ordered nearly two weeks ago by Becerra's office to hand over all files relating to sex abuse.

This week, Los Angeles is one of six dioceses to set up a compensation program promising an easy process and a quick payout provided the victim promises never to sue the dioceses. Four of the dioceses that were ordered to hand over files set up compensation programs.

Watch the panel discuss the legal noose tightening on predator clerics in The Download—Legal Reckoning for the Church.

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