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updated: 8/22/2011 12:48 PM

Attorney: Documents show Vatican controls priests

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Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- An attorney for a man who claims he was sexually abused by an Oregon priest in the mid-1960s said Monday that newly released Vatican documents show the Holy See exercises firm control over the placement and removal of offending priests, a claim that a lawyer for the church quickly disputed.

Jeffrey Anderson acknowledged Monday that much of what the Vatican released to him in over 1,800 documents last Friday was already in the public domain. He also alleged that the Vatican failed to produce "some very significant things" that he planned to discuss at a news conference Monday morning.

"There's no single smoking revelation, but when you look at what they have produced in the context of what is already known it demonstrates again that it is a monarchal system controlled by the Vatican and controlled by the See and all actions, policies, protocols and removal are in the explicit province of the Vatican," Anderson said. "To that end this is an important and unprecedented and historical breakthrough revealing what has never before been revealed."

Anderson is seeking to hold the Vatican responsible under U.S. and Oregon law for the abuse alleged by a Washington state man identified only as John V. Doe. He's trying to persuade a federal judge that the Vatican was effectively the employer of the Rev. Andrew Ronan in the mid-1960s, when he was assigned to Portland and is alleged to have abused the young man. An employment relationship could trigger an exception to a federal law that usually bars lawsuits against foreign sovereign entities such as the Vatican.

Jeffrey Lena, a Berkeley, Calif., attorney representing the Vatican in the case, said the Vatican turned over all the documents Anderson requested -- and he challenged Anderson to show what's missing.

The Vatican posted about 70 pages of documents related to Ronan on the Internet last Wednesday, followed by a larger release of more than 1,800 pages to Anderson on Friday. It marked the first time the Vatican has provided documents in response to a sex abuse lawsuit.

Lena said the documents released to the public showed the Vatican, far from exercising top-down control, was unaware of the allegations against Ronan until church officials in the U.S. asked for permission to remove him from his priestly duties. He suggested Anderson is displaying "ignorance" or "willful blindness" when he says the Vatican exercises a monarch's control over U.S. dioceses or religious orders.

Lena also said it was premature for Anderson to draw firm conclusions about what was in the over 1,800 pages of documents turned over to him late last week, given that many of them are in Latin. He said it took defense attorneys months to go through the material.

"After two days I can guarantee he has no idea what's in there," Lena said.

Ronan died in 1992. He left the priesthood in 1966 shortly after the Portland archdiocese began a proceeding against him known as "laicization," a process the church does not consider equivalent to firing. The Vatican approved his return to lay status. The documents released last Wednesday showed officials of Ronan's order, the Friar Servants of Mary, knew about abuse allegations against him as early as 1959 and worried about the possibility of a scandal as they transferred him twice.