'Beyond strange'

James
James McLeod
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Catholic church goes up against Catholic church in sex abuse case

In court Tuesday, it appeared that the Roman Catholic Church was having a bizarre argument with itself, with nine sex abuse victims caught in the middle.

In the end, Justice Lois Hoegg cut the legal squabbling short, but said that the church might have a strong lawsuit case.

Lawyers for the RC Episcopal Corp. Denis Fleming (left) and Tom O'Reilly (right) speak to each other during a break in proceedings at the Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John's Tuesday. Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

In court Tuesday, it appeared that the Roman Catholic Church was having a bizarre argument with itself, with nine sex abuse victims caught in the middle.

In the end, Justice Lois Hoegg cut the legal squabbling short, but said that the church might have a strong lawsuit case.

Tuesday morning, the RC Episcopal Corp., represented by lawyer Andrew Fitzgerald, agreed to a settlement of $200,000 to a victim from the late 1970s who was abused by Father James Hickey.

Immediately after the settlement was approved, another lawyer - also representing the RC Episcopal Corp. - requested "intervening" status.

In his request, Tom O'Reilly said that Fitzgerald wasn't actually taking his marching orders from the church, but instead from the Insurance Corp. of Newfoundland (ICON).

And in an even more peculiar twist, O'Reilly said that ICON had been negotiating the settlements through Fitzgerald, even though it refused to pay, saying the church's insurance doesn't cover lawsuits from sexual abuse.

On court documents, Fitzgerald is listed as representing the RC Episcopal Corp. of St. John's, but he confirmed in court that he is taking his marching orders from ICON.

O'Reilly stressed the church does not in any way want to delay the $200,000 settlement with the victim - whose name is being protected from publication.

He said if the insurance company wouldn't pay up the church would.

After the amount is paid, O'Reilly and the church essentially wanted to hijack the court proceedings as an intervener to effectively sue Fitzgerald and ICON to make them pay up.

"We paid our money, we bought an insurance policy, we want our indemnity," O'Reilly said.

The lawyer representing the unnamed victim objected to the move, saying it could cause delays to the payment.

More broadly, Harry Mugford said that the church shouldn't be hitching itself on to the legal action, and it would be more appropriate for the church to sue ICON outright.

In the end, the judge agreed.

"I am a little flummoxed by the hair-splitting nature of the RC Episcopal Corp.," Hoegg said.

"It strikes me as extremely strange, perhaps beyond strange."

In her decision, Hoegg said that the church may very well be able to win a lawsuit against ICON.

This case has implications for eight other men who were also abused by Hickey, as well as the victim dealt with Tuesday.

The nine men originally brought their case forward in 1998, and after years of legal wrangling, delays and negotiation, a judge agreed in February 2009 that the church was liable for the abuse.

Since then, the lawyers have been trying to hammer out how much money will be paid in damages.

It was unclear Tuesday whether a lawsuit between the Roman Catholic church and ICON would cause a delay for the other eight victims.

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Organizations: RC Episcopal, Roman Catholic Church

Geographic location: Newfoundland, St. John's

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