The Vatican has said it cannot be held responsible for the day-to-day actions of Catholic bishops in America, as it scrambles to prevent the Pope from being called to give evidence in a landmark abuse case.
The argument will be made in a case by three Kentucky men who claim that they were abused by priests decades ago.
The men -- one of whom received compensation under a previous court settlement -- are claiming negligence by the Vatican.
Their lawyer is trying to make the case on behalf of all US victims of sex abuse by priests and wants to force Pope Benedict XVI to testify. The Vatican insists that it is not liable for any negligence by its US bishops.
Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican's US lawyer, said yesterday that US bishops were not employees of the Holy See, did not act on Rome's behalf and were not controlled day-to-day by the Pope. The Holy See denied that it had barred US bishops from reporting sex abuse by priests.
The Vatican outlined its defence against charges that it covered up abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the US as it attempted to thwart efforts to force the Pope to testify.
In a recent court submission the men's lawyer said that newly disclosed documents "directly implicate Pope Benedict XVI's involvement in the Holy See's decision to cast a shroud of secrecy over clergy sexual abuse cases in the United States".
The Kentucky case is the first US suit in which the judge must determine whether the abuse victims have a claim against the Vatican for failing to report the molestation.
The Vatican argues that the US court has no jurisdiction in the issue because the Holy See is a sovereign state, and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act protects states from being sued in US courts except under certain circumstances.