Federal Court rules that Vatican not employer of priest accused of sex crime

On Monday, a federal court in Oregon ruled in a sex abuse case that the Holy See is not the employer of priests. The ruling puts an end to a six-year issue in a decade-old case and means that the Vatican may be protected from possible monetary damages.

The ruling stems from a suit brought in 2002 by a Seattle-area man who accused a priest under the care of the Archdiocese of Portland of molesting him repeatedly back in the late 1960s. At the time of the alleged crime, the plaintiff was 17 years old. Part of his case was to show that the defendant, like all priests, are employees of the Vatican, making the latter liable for the alleged offense. The case, to be clear, is a civil one and is not connected to any criminal charges.

Monday's ruling was based on the finding that there was no employer-employee relationship between The Holy See and the priest in question. In criminal cases, the overarching issue is whether the accused is guilty of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard to reach, and much of defense work centers on raising reasonable doubts as to the defendant's guilt.

In general, defenses to criminal charges amount to arguing that (a) the defendant didn't do what they are accused of or (b) they did do it, but should not be held responsible. In the first category, defense attorneys will focus on the principle of innocence until guilty is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Proving that the defendant was incapable of committing the crime is another major approach.

In the second category of defense, there are multiple defenses that can be brought to the table, including self-defense, insanity, lack of the required mental state due to use of drugs or alcohol, and entrapment.

Obviously, a good defense attorney will take advantage of all opportunities to build a strong case. That is why it is important for criminal defendants to get in contact with an attorney early on in their case.


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