The Vatican has sovereign immunity that protects it from being sued in local courts over sexual abuse cases, the European Court of Human Rights said in a chamber ruling on Tuesday.
It dismissed a case brought by 24 French, Belgian and Dutch nationals, who said they were sexually abused by Catholic priests when they were children.
The class-action suit sought €10,000 compensation for each victim but the Ghent Court of First Instance said in 2013 that it did not have jurisdiction over the Holy See. The applicants had argued that they had been deprived of access to a court.
The European court agreed with the Belgian court that the Holy see enjoyed "diplomatic immunity" and "state privileges under international law".
"The Court did not find anything unreasonable or arbitrary in the detailed reasoning which led the Court of Appeal to reach that conclusion. It pointed out that it had itself previously characterised agreements between the Holy See and other States as international treaties," the European Court of Human Rights said in a statement.
Judge Darian Pavli said in a dissenting opinion that the court hadn't considered the "nature of the injury, rather than and irrespective of its location".
Pavli also said the Belgian courts failed to respond to "the applicants’ serious allegations of direct and significant Holy See involvement in the handling of sexual abuse by priests within the Belgian Church."
The European court's judgement is not final, a press statement explained. Any party to the case can request that it be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court within three months.