ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Decades after claiming they were sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests, two men have struck back with lawsuits against three American dioceses and their spiritual headquarters -- the Vatican itself.
In separate actions filed Wednesday in St. Petersburg and Portland, Ore., the men accused church leaders of conspiring to harbor child molesters and move them from parish to parish to avoid prosecution.
Attorney Jeffrey Anderson filed the civil lawsuits naming as defendants the Holy See, two religious orders, and the dioceses of Portland, Chicago and St. Petersburg.
It is the first time Anderson, who has represented plaintiffs in more than 400 lawsuits against church officials since the 1980s, has filed one against the Vatican.
"What this case shows is at least in some instances bishops have not been guilty of poor judgment or mistakes, but church leaders have been guilty of making deceitful choices," Anderson said.
No one has successfully sued the Vatican in a sex abuse lawsuit, although a few lawyers have tried, said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a priest who co-authored a 1985 report to the U.S. bishops warning more must be done to stop abuse.
Doyle said he expects church lawyers will argue the Vatican is a country with diplomatic immunity and cannot be sued.
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