January 17, 2006
Court won’t review Vatican Bank Holocaust suit
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court allowed
Holocaust survivors on Tuesday to proceed with a lawsuit
claiming that the Vatican Bank and a Franciscan religious order
profited from property stolen by Croatia's pro-Nazi World War
The justices declined to review a ruling by a U.S. appeals
court that reinstated the suit, which claimed the Order of
Friars Minor conspired with the Vatican Bank to facilitate the
transfer of gold and other looted valuable assets.
The Holocaust survivors filed the lawsuit in federal court
in San Francisco in 1999 accusing the defendants of receiving
property stolen from victims of Croatia's brutal Ustasha regime
from 1941 to 1945. As many as 700,000 people, mostly Serbs,
were killed at death camps run by the regime.
The lawsuit claimed that the stolen property was used after
the war to help Nazi war criminals escape from Europe to South
America. The class-action lawsuit seeks compensation for the
monetary losses suffered by Holocaust survivors.
The Vatican Bank, the financial arm of the Roman Catholic
Church, and the religious order founded by St. Francis of
Assisi have denied the claims.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2003 on the
grounds that the claims involved questions that should be
handled by the executive or legislative branches of the U.S.
government, not by the courts.
But the appeals court disagreed and ruled the case could go
forward, even if the claims involved foreign relations and
potentially controversial issues.
Attorneys for the Order of Friars Minor and Vatican Bank
appealed to the Supreme Court. They argued that resolution of
Holocaust-era claims was an issue of foreign relations
constitutionally committed to the political branches of the
U.S. government, not the courts.
The Vatican Bank's attorneys said the appeals court's
ruling threatened "to disrupt the nation's foreign affairs."
Attorneys for the Holocaust survivors replied that the
appeals should be rejected.
They said there were "no compelling reasons or
extraordinary circumstances" warranting high court review of
the case. They said judicial review of wartime property losses
does not pose any threat to U.S. foreign relations.
The Supreme Court rejected the appeals without any comment
or recorded dissent.