LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)- Sex abuse victims can pursue damages from the Vatican in a lawsuit alleging top church officials failed to report known or suspected cases of child abuse, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II allows three men to pursue negligence claims against the Vatican over allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
The case is the first sexual abuse lawsuit to name the Vatican as sole defendant.
The men alleged that the Vatican knew or suspected some of its priests or bishops were child molesters, but failed to warn the public or local authorities about them because of a policy prohibiting it.
The lawsuit claims the Vatican was negligent for failing to notify law enforcement officials or the public.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
Heyburn had previously dismissed parts of the lawsuit that sought damages for sex abuse allegations outside the United States.
William McMurry, the Louisville-based attorney for the three men, said the ruling opens the way to take depositions of Vatican officials and to get copies of church records and documents.
"It's historic," McMurry said. "Our whole purpose is to hold the Vatican accountable."
McMurry is seeking to have the suit certified as a class-action case, alleging that "several thousand" victims exist across the United States. McMurry represented 243 sex abuse victims that settled with the Archdiocese of Louisville in 2003 for $25.3 million.
One of the three plaintiffs suing the Vatican is Michael Turner of Louisville, who also filed the first lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Louisville. Turner alleged he was molested by the Rev. Louis E. Miller in the 1970s while attending St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley.
Miller was removed from the priesthood last year by the late Pope John Paul II after pleading guilty in 2003 to sexually abusing children in Jefferson and Oldham counties. He is serving a 13-year prison sentence.
The other two plaintiffs, James H. O'Bryan and Donald E. Poppe, have not settled with any diocese, McMurry has said. Both live in California and allege that they were abused by priests while growing up in Louisville.
O'Bryan contends he was abused by a "Father Lawrence" at St. Cecilia Church in western Louisville in 1928. An archdiocesan spokeswoman has said a Rev. Lawrence Kuntz worked at St. Cecelia from 1928 to 1935 and died in 1952.
Poppe alleges he was molested by the Rev. Arthur Wood, who died in 1983 and was named as an abuser by 39 plaintiffs who settled with the archdiocese.