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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - On Tuesday, as the U.S. bishops were still absorbing the news that the Vatican had blocked action on clerical sex abuse, they were slapped with two simultaneous lawsuits, with one naming the Holy See as a defendant.
Both lawsuits seek to force open diocesan secret archives by court order, compelling the U.S. Church to reveal the identities and histories of its predators.
One suit, launched by six clerical sex abuse victims, was filed in federal district court in Minnesota. It alleges that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) concealed "the known histories and identities from the public, parishioners and law enforcement of clergy accused of sexually abusing children across the country."
Speaking Tuesday, Jeff Anderson, attorney for the six plaintiffs, warned the Church "maintains" a threat to public safety.
The same day, a class-action suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against both the USCCB and the Vatican itself — an unprecedented legal move.
It accuses the Church of conspiracy and running a criminal enterprise under federal racketeering statutes.
According to the 80-page class-action suit:
This case is about the endemic, systemic, rampant, and pervasive rape and sexual abuse of Plaintiffs and Class Members perpetrated by Roman Catholic Church cardinals, bishops, monsignors, priests, sisters, lay leaders, members of Catholic religious orders, educators, and other of Defendants' personnel, members, agents, and representatives (collectively, "Clergy" or "Catholic Clergy") while serving in active ministry — with the knowledge of Defendants.
It accuses Church leaders of promoting a public hazard by covering up the crimes of predator priests:
Rather than safeguarding and protecting Plaintiffs and Class Members — who were minor children at the time — Defendants protected the abusive Clergy, took extraordinary measures to conceal their wrongful conduct, moved them from parish to parish, without warning church members or the general public, thereby further facilitating their predatory practices, failed and refused to report the abusive Clergy to law enforcement or other responsible authorities as required by law, and — incredibly — even promoted the abusive Clergy. Defendants' wrongful acts are ongoing and continuous.
The class-action suit accuses the Church of violating the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which was originally devised to target organized crime syndicates. It seeks to triple financial damages for "unlawful and intentional schemes, actions, inaction, omissions, cover-up, deception, and concealment, obstructive behavior regarding investigations, and conspiracy of silence," which "constitute assault, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence/gross negligence, negligence per se, intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful death, public nuisance, conspiracy, and aiding and abetting."
The class-action suit is historic, in that it attempts to hold the Vatican liable in the United States for the actions of its clergy — a first. Up to now, the Vatican has avoided liability by claiming it has no direct authority over clergy.
But this assertion was shattered on Monday when the Holy See blocked the USCCB vote in Baltimore.
"If that's not command responsibility, I don't know what is," said attorney Mitchell A. Toups, who is helping lead the class-action suit.