An Oxnard man who says he was sexually abused by a priest decades ago is suing the Vatican, seeking the release of the names of all offenders within the church worldwide.
Manny Vega, a 52-year-old former police officer and Marine, said Thursday that he’s fighting for the truth for himself and other victims of sex abuse by Catholic priests.
“We were raped,” Vega said. “It happened to me, it happened to my friends, and it happens to children all across the world, and it continues to happen at the hands of the Catholic church, whose inaction continues to damage children.”
Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican’s U.S. lawyer, declined to comment but has previously said similar lawsuits are attempts by some lawyers “to use the judicial process as a tool of media relations.”
Vega’s lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in California, accuses the Vatican of placing the Rev. Fidencio Silva-Flores in a position of power at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Oxnard and says it should have known he posed a danger to children.
The lawsuit alleges that Silva-Flores sexually abused Vega between 1979 and 1984. Silva-Flores was charged with 25 counts of molestation in 2003, but the case was dismissed because of the amount of time that had passed.
Although Vega reached a settlement with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2007, that doesn’t release the Vatican from responsibility, the lawsuit says.
“We’ve come to the sorrowful realization that the problem is at the top and with the Vatican, and thus has to be addressed at the top for children across the globe to truly be safe,” said Jeff Anderson, the attorney representing Vega and other victims of priest sex abuse for 35 years.
The lawsuit doesn’t seek monetary damages, but rather an order for the Vatican to release the names of abusers in what Anderson said is more than 3,400 credible cases. It also seeks the names of anyone found guilty of sexual misconduct to be turned over to law enforcement.
For years, advocates for victims have been demanding the Vatican release files about abusive priests. The Vatican in 2001 ordered dioceses around the world to send all their cases to Rome to be reviewed. The Vatican has refused to release the documents.
The lawsuit comes amid renewed outrage in the U.S. over sex abuse and decades of cover-up by the Catholic hierarchy. A Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of abuse, as well as allegations that a prominent U.S. ex-cardinal was himself an abuser, have renewed a crisis of confidence in the U.S. and Vatican leadership.
Priest sex abuse scandals first erupted in the United States and elsewhere more than 15 years ago.
Anderson and other lawyers have tried to sue the Holy See — the government of the Catholic Church — in U.S. courts before. But the Vatican has successfully prevented the litigation from reaching a verdict in part by arguing that it’s immune as a foreign sovereign and that priests aren’t employees of the Vatican.
Anderson’s last major effort alleging Vatican liability for the abuse of a priest was eventually dismissed in federal court in Oregon in 2013.
Anderson said the California lawsuit differs in several ways, including arguments that the Holy See is not immune from the litigation because of two exceptions in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
Still, he acknowledged there are hurdles.
“You’re taking on a sovereign state, you’re taking on the most powerful institution in western civilization … You’re taking on an institution that has never been successfully sued,” Anderson said. “Because there’s no precedent, anybody would look at this and say, ‘It can’t be done.’ We look at it and say, ‘It must be done.'”