US Catholic abuse victims sue Vatican to name predatory priests

St. Peter's Square in the Vatican is pictured on Easter Sunday (AFP Photo/Vincenzo PINTO )

Washington (AFP) - Five Americans who say they were sexually molested by Catholic priests filed a lawsuit against the Vatican on Tuesday to compel the church to open its archives and hand over the names and details of abusive clergy.

The plaintiffs "were harmed as a result of the Defendant Holy See's practice and policy of not reporting suspected child abuse to law enforcement officials," stated the lawsuit filed in US federal court in the state of Minnesota.

"Holy See's practices of retaining, hiding, and concealing evidence of crimes of its agents and former agents has endangered numerous children and continues to put children in peril," it added.

Stephen Hoffman, one of three brothers who are plaintiffs for the case, said at a press conference the suit's intention is to "let something like this never happen anymore."

"I don't want anyone to go through what I and my brothers went through... I just want the Vatican to do what's right," he said.

Hoffman and his brothers Luke and Benedict say they were molested by Curtis Wehmeyer, a Catholic priest arrested in 2012 and sentenced to five years in prison after the siblings' mother reported the case, sparking a scandal that caused the resignation of an archbishop in 2015.

Another plaintiff, 51-year-old Jim Keenan, said he was assaulted throughout the 1970s by a priest whose actions were documented in secret by the church.

"I come forward today to sue the Pope and the Vatican, because it needs to stop. They are not above us," he told reporters.

The fifth plaintiff, Manuel Vega, said he was one of 30 victims of a Mexican priest who he believes returned to his home country after being accused of abuse in the US.

"He is nowhere to be found," the 53-year-old said. "From what I heard, he is somewhere in Mexico, or in Spain, still practicing, still dangerous."

The lawsuit comes after Pope Francis announced this month that every Catholic diocese would have to come up with a plan for reporting abuse, a measure expected to bring countless new cases of molestation to light.

The Catholic church is struggling to deal with a global epidemic of sexual assault by priests, in particular of minors. Much of the abuse has gone on for decades.