Leaders within the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland and Labrador were aware of the sexual abuse of boys by Father James Hickey as early as 1980, according to evidence brought forward in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The evidence was presented by the insurance company charged with assisting the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s (RCEC) in defending its case in ongoing civil suits involving Hickey.
The insurer, Guardian Insurance Company of Canada, has stated church leaders were aware prior to 1980 of allegations against Hickey and that, specifically, Archbishop Alphonsus Penney was aware of such allegations as of 1980.
To date, Penney has denied having any such knowledge or recollection of any disclosures about sexual misconduct by Hickey. He has previously testified he was not aware of any such problem with Hickey prior to 1987, when criminal charges were laid.
In September 1988, Hickey pleaded guilty to 20 charges of sexual assault, gross indecency and indecent assault involving teenage boys. He was sentenced to five years in jail, and died in 1992 at the age of 59.
Guardian Insurance now states the Church has not been acting in good faith in dealing with the subsequent civil suits.
As evidence, they have pointed to, among several affidavits, a statement made by Randy Joseph Barnes, a former member of the seminary who was in Rushoon while Hickey was posted as priest there.
The statement was collected in interviews conducted by a representative for the insurance company in the early 1990s.
“Barnes stated that, while in Rushoon, he was aware of boys spending evenings at the parish home of James Hickey and that sexual activity was ongoing involving James Hickey. (He) said in his discovery that he had met with Archbishop Penney in or about May of 1980 and disclosed this to him,” reads the information from the Supreme Court.
“At the time, (Barnes) indicated that he told Archbishop Penney that when in Rushoon, James Hickey had been sexually abusing boys as well as another seminarian.”
Guardian Insurance filed the statement, labelled as “new evidence,” as part of an ultimately failed legal action — an effort to disconnect itself from the RCEC when it comes to the legal battles involving Hickey’s abuse.
The statement is laid out in a recent judgement on that action at the Supreme Court, from Justice Richard LeBlanc, filed Oct. 31.
“Guardian now claims that it has credible evidence to establish knowledge of the activities of James Hickey by Archbishop Penney as well as Monsignor Morrissey, the Vicar-General, at the relevant times,” LeBlanc states.
“Therefore, Guardian claims that it should be permitted to defend the present Third Party claim on the basis of a lack of good faith on the part of RCEC.”
LeBlanc ultimately dismissed the insurance company’s attempt to remove itself from the civil defence. In his reasoning, he noted the insurance company had continued to defend the RCEC, even after becoming aware of the statements suggesting Penney was both aware of complaints against Hickey as early as 1980 and in a position to investigate further.
Defence involving Guardian was made on 14 claims, at least one filed after the Barnes’ statement was obtained by the insurance company.
Guardian has previously attempted to disengage from the civil mess. A similar application in 1992 was also dismissed.
John Doe’s story
The case of John Doe, now poised to come before the court, involves complaints of abuse prior to 1980.
Doe’s own statement, as outlined by LeBlanc in his judgement, tells the story of a young man who was sexually abused, attempted to come forward on multiple occasions and was, on varying occasions, immediately rejected for putting forward a “false story” or later dismissed, as the story reached more senior members of the diocese.
“(John Doe) states in his affidavit that he was sexually assaulted by James Hickey a number of times in 1973 and 1974 and, as a result, spoke to three priests in the diocese,” according to LeBlanc’s ruling.
“He told (former Vicar-General) Monsignor Morrissey of the sexual abuse by James Hickey when they met. According to (him), Monsignor Morrissey offered no help and no further contact took place between them.
“He said that James Hickey had confronted him about his complaint after and had indicated that he was not responsible for things he had done while sleeping.”
In 1974-1975, John Doe states he tried again to get help. This time, he testified, he spoke with Father Ronald MacIntyre, telling MacIntyre that Hickey had stood naked next to his bed. At that point in the story, he was crying.
“Father MacIntyre states in his affidavit that he concluded that the incident had progressed to sexual contact,” reads LeBlanc’s finding. “As a result, and having been given permission by the young person to do so, Father MacIntyre met with Monsignor Morrissey, the Vicar-General, and advised him of the incident and the seriousness of it. He recalls Monsignor Morrissey telling him to ‘leave it with me Ron and we’ll take care of it’ or ‘leave it to us and we’ll take care of it.’”
In 1976, John Doe made a third disclosure, this time to Father Frank McGee, a priest of St. Pius X. Again, it came to no end.
His statements were raised by at least one priest during the Winter Commission — the Church-led investigation into the abuse of children by priests in 1989-1990 — but John Doe did not participate. Nor did he participate in followup to the commission’s work by policing agencies.
“He hasn’t been well,” one priest stated. “He has put his life together and he didn’t want, he didn’t want to be disturbed. He didn’t want all this raked up again.”
The Winter Commission found the Archdiocese of St. John’s had been aware of Hickey’s actions as far back as 1975. However, little was made of how far up, if at all, that knowledge went.
Several civil actions against the Church. in regards to Hickey. remain before the court and unresolved. They include John Doe’s case.
Meanwhile, Justice LeBlanc has ordered Guardian to pay to the RCEC all costs associated with the most recent decision, charging them with carrying on the defense of the Church.