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Vatican, 3 U.S. dioceses covered up abuse, suit alleges

2 men say they were molested as youths

Associated Press

April 4, 2002

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Two men sued the Vatican and three Roman Catholic dioceses yesterday, accusing them of covering up sexual abuse at a Catholic boarding school in Florida and an Oregon monastery.

The lawsuits claim that the Holy See; the archdioceses of Portland, Ore., and Chicago; the Diocese of St. Petersburg, and two religious orders hid two abusive clergymen by moving them to parishes and monasteries across state and national lines.

"Church leaders have been guilty of making deceitful choices," said Jeffrey Anderson, who has represented more than 400 plaintiffs in abuse lawsuits against church officials since the 1980s.

A message left for the Vatican ambassador to the United States was not returned. A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment.

No one has successfully sued the Vatican in a sex abuse lawsuit, although a handful of lawyers have tried, said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a priest who co-wrote a 1985 report warning more must be done to stop abuse.

He said he expects church lawyers will argue that the Vatican is a country with diplomatic immunity and cannot be sued.

In the St. Petersburg case, Rick Gomez, 28, of California, said Salesian Brother William Burke abused him in 1987 when he was a seventh-grader at the Mary Help of Christians boarding school in Tampa. The priest is currently believed to be working in New Jersey.

"These were the people I looked up to and respected," said Gomez, who cried at a news conference.

The Very Rev. James Heuser, vice provincial of the order, said Burke is a fully ordained priest who is not in active ministry. He declined to say where Burke lives, but said he had contacted him and he did not want to comment.

In the Portland case, an unnamed man said the Rev. Andrew Ronan molested him in the mid-1960s in a Portland monastery and elsewhere when he was about 16.

Ronan, who died about 10 years ago, allegedly abused children in Ireland before being transferred to the United States, the lawsuit said.

The Chicago archdiocese was named because Ronan was transferred from a Chicago parish to Portland after allegedly molesting children, Anderson said.

Last month, Anderson filed a lawsuit accusing all U.S. bishops and three dioceses of covering up sexual abuse by a former Florida priest more than 25 years ago.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of New York said it has given the Manhattan district attorney a list of cases from the past four decades of priests accused of molesting youngsters.