The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that the Vatican can not be sued in a local court for sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests. This ruling affirmed that the Vatican enjoys sovereign immunity and that the misconduct of priests and their superiors can’t be attributed to the Holy See.

The court said that this was also the ECHR’s first case to deal with the immunity of the Holy See.

The ECHR dismissed a case brought by two dozen people who said they were victims of abusive priests in Belgium. The 24 people debated that the Holy See was liable because of the “structurally deficient” way the Catholic hierarchy had covered up cases of priests who raped and molested children for decades.

After Belgian courts ruled that they did have no jurisdiction given the Holy See’s immunity as a sovereign state, the plaintiffs then appealed to the Strasbourg-based court.

The European court ruled that the Belgian judges were correct and that the victims hadn’t been deprived of their right to have access to a court.

It reiterated that the Holy See enjoys sovereign immunity and that no exception to that rule applied since the misconduct of bishops in handling abuse cases couldn’t be attributed to the Vatican.

Citing the Belgian decision, the European court said the pope wasn’t the “principal” of his bishops, “that the misconduct attributed directly to the Holy See hadn’t been committed on Belgian territory but in Rome; and that neither the pope nor the Holy See had been present on Belgian territory when the misconduct attributed to the leaders of the church in Belgium had been committed,” according to a summary of the ruling, Associated Press ruled.

Tuesday’s ruling was a Chamber judgment. For a final decision, both sides have a time limit of three months to ask the case to be heard by the court’s Grand Chamber.

(With inputs from Associated Press)