The Court refused wtihout comment to consider whether the Vatican has legal immunity over the sexual abuse of minors by priests in the US. This will allow a lower court suit filed in 2002 by a plaintiff who was abused several times as a teenager by an alleged paedophile priest, Father Andrew Ronan, in Portland, Oregan.
Before being accused of the offenses in the US, Ronan who died in 1992, allegedly sexually molested children in Ireland and Chicago.
The Vatican wanted the federal courts to throw out a lawsuit that sought to hold the Roman Catholic Church responsible for moving Ronan from Ireland to Chicago and then to Portland despite the sex abuse accusations. The Vatican claimed immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.
But the nine US justices would not consider the Church's claim that it enjoys 'sovereign immunity'.
An attorney for the plaintiff said the action by the Supreme Court finally gives survivors of sexual abuse a "real shot at obtaining justice and truth about the complicity of Vatican leaders in covering up the criminal acts of Catholic priests".
During a visit to the US in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI met with several victims of alleged abuse by priests and expressed shame for the scandals. The Pope has repeatedly said that priests and religious workers guilty of child abuse should answer for their crimes in court.