Archbishop Penney knew about abuse: documents

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Father James Hickey is shown in these submitted photos. — Submitted photos

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.

Organizations: Supreme Court, Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland and Labrador, Episcopal Guardian Insurance Company of Canada Third Party Winter Commission

Geographic location: Rushoon

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Recent comments

  • Used to be Catholic
    November 03, 2011 - 20:31

    I find it disgusting that when it comes to money missing they are quick to call in the RNC . They think more of their money than the victims of sexual abuse and cover it up . How many more victims out there have suffered over the years ? Perhaps the church should just pay up and help these victims get their lives back to some type of normalcy ,instead they choose to deny these people compensation for the actions of the perverts that perpetrated crimes against defenseless children. They call themselves caring and charitable but yet the current Archbishop lets this fiasco continue. Its not only the past but the fact that the current Archbishop still lets this drag out through insurance companies . Do what is right and if you really care do the right thing!

  • Joe
    November 03, 2011 - 17:50

    Yes we have to rehash this again as it should never be forgotten how these perverts were allowed to do what they did and get away with it. And to think that people still sit in their pews at mass and listen to these fools will always baffle me.

  • John Smith
    November 03, 2011 - 14:27

    The church is more than a handful of vile rogue priests and bishops. The majority of priests are good people but unfortunately,they don't get teh media attention for the good they do. The media prefers to focus on the 1% or so of bad priests as this makes a more sensational headline. The Catholic Church has been around for thousands of years and will continue to be long after we are all gone.

      November 08, 2011 - 08:32

      Number of views : 4911 Rate 0 star1 star2 star3 star4 star Top of the page Comments Username John Smith - November 4, 2011 at 11:24:09 The church is more than a handful of vile rogue priests and bishops. The majority of priests are good people but unfortunately,they don't get teh media attention for the good they do. The media prefers to focus on the 1% or so of bad priests as this makes a more sensational headline. The Catholic Church has been around for thousands of years and will continue to be long after we ar Are you kidding me .The paper is not looking for sensational headlines ,they are looking for justice for the many men who still suffer ,trying to just get through each day !! If your so called "Good"priests want media attention why don't they put that collection plate around the church on Sunday and give those people there damn money already . I only hope to live to see the end of the Catholic church my friend .Just a bunch of manipulation ,using our belief in God to get money out of us and convince us to do foolish things like not eat meat on Friday .Catholics think that they're God and they're beliefs are right.Muslims have different beliefs,Jewish have theirs etc....We can't all be right now can we ?!?!

  • Val
    November 03, 2011 - 12:20

    As a survivor of child abuse and a former Catholic (the two are not connected in my case) I have to say that the reluctance of people to accept that child abuse is out of control now is not shocking but none-the-less disturbing. Putting ones head in the sand and diminishing what is now a world wide epidemic is unforgivable. Those who do nothing and blame the victim or pass the buck to someone else are as guilty as the perpetrators. Child abuse does not continue because abusers abuse, it continues because non abusers don't stop it by creating legislation to keep them in prison for LIFE. The notion of rehabilitation is insane and anyone who has been abused will tell you that these people are not curable. This is not a problem of religion, it is a problem of our intrinsic lack of moral fiber as human beings. Individuals who survive abuse are sentenced to a mental and emotional hell from which there is no escape. There is no way to restore to victims of abuse all they have lost and to make light of their suffering is an insidious blame the victim mentality that erodes even further the societal structure of the human race. We are at a pivotal moment on this planet and if we don't start protecting and nurturing those who will secure our species (the children) then we may as well say we are doomed. What a disgraceful end that would be for us all.

  • Bernice
    November 03, 2011 - 09:43

    It is always good to see the truth come out and be dealth with...then healing can Chris who says that religion needs to be banished....what do we do with family members like parents,uncles/aunts who sexual abuse their children....that has nothing to do with religion...the problem lies with the individual....I am Catholic and go to my church, but I would never think about hurting anyone.....I am always there to help religious upbringing didn't make me a bad person.....this type of problem in todays society lies in all, it is not just a Religious Problem.....and we have to acknowledge that....

  • Doug Smith
    November 03, 2011 - 09:40

    This news item should come as no surprise to anyone who has knowledge of the Catholic Church. It's whole existence is based on hypocrisy. This past Thursday the pope admitted that the church often used violence and force throughout its history. " We acknowledge it with great shame." It should be pointed out that this is coming from a pope who is up to his armpits in the world wide cover up of child sexal abuse by the Catholic clergy. Why anyone would want to support such a corrupt organization is beyond reason, especially women, who are officially and permanently relugated to second class status. Perhaps they should be pitied since they are unable to think for themselves when it comes to religion.

  • grant
    November 03, 2011 - 09:27

    Remember people, Religion started when the first scroungel met the first fool.

    • Mike Bromley
      November 04, 2011 - 12:10

      Religion is the root of all evil. Think about it.... You can develop your own spirituality, you don't need some "ordained" idiot to tell you anything about God.

  • Robert
    November 03, 2011 - 09:18

    Having grown up attending church services conducted by these priests I find it very hard to accept that Fr. Penney was aware of Jim Hickey's actions. Nevertheless it is now clear he was aware and therefore should have to face some type of court action for his inaction. I also believe there should be some kind of invistigation of the torture that was inflicted on catholic students by the nuns and christian brothers at the catholic schools in St. John's back in the 50's and 60's, especially St. Pat's. If only to ensure such cruel punishment is never allowed to happen to young children again.

  • Sick of this
    November 03, 2011 - 08:53

    OMG! Do we have to rehash this again? It’s been 22 years and we all know what Father Hickey did and he is now dead and has been judged by higher judge then we could ever find on earth. Now, the insurance wants to get away from the case so they won’t have to pay out more money so now they’re admitting there were documents that states Archbishop Penney and Monsignor Morrissey knew of boys being abused. Monseineur Morrissey is dead and not here to defend himself and Archbishop Skinner, who is also dead was the Archbishop until 1979, not Archbishop Penney, who resigned after the scandal. We all know things should have been done differently back then and hopefully since then with the new rules that have been implemented, and people being more educated in these matters, we realize just because someone is a person of the cloth, or a teacher, or whatever profession, they should not be put up on a pedestal. People may think the church as fallen, the church is not just the priest, it is the community that comes together in Jesus’ house. As Jesus said in the temple, do as they say not as they do. Jesus, himself said, his church would fall and by the ones within it but he also said, it would never be destroyed and for that reason Catholics should defend their church, not the priests who have done wrong, they should be kicked out but defend it for all the ones who have done good and there have been and still is a lot of good priests and lay people working for the Catholic church and for the teachings of the Catholic church.

    • Yah
      November 04, 2011 - 01:14


  • Dave
    November 03, 2011 - 08:38

    This is news??? A Catholic priest has lied and cheated. That has never happened before has it?

  • Bridget Ryan
    November 03, 2011 - 08:21

    Thank goodness this has finally come to light. My family and I continue to attend Mass because we refuse to let the behaviour of the likes of Penny rob that from us as so much has been robbed from so many. Now that his role in all this is public, I hope the Archdiocese will at last ban him from participating in any more services. He is nothing more than a distraction and a reminder of our sad past.

  • Mary
    November 03, 2011 - 08:11

    I find it really hard for them to say that they weren't aware the abuse was happening. They were aware and that is why the priests were shifted from little town to little town. Hoping it would go away! I grew up in a town where the priests were worshipped and God help you if you said anything negative about them. I have children and I let them decide whether they want to be part of the church or not. And they are not! Hats off to the ones who had the courage to come forward! It takes alot to do such a thing..

  • Wayne Harvey
    November 03, 2011 - 08:00

    My, My, My--How the mighty Catholic Church has fallen and, continues to fall. Anyone know the current address of the Borgias?

  • The Atheist
    November 03, 2011 - 07:52

    What's shocking is the large number of people who think 'men of the cloth' don't lie, cheat, cover-up, steal, and commit acts of violence. Worse still is the number of people who don't think this doesn't happen in their church or organizations for children.

  • Chris
    November 03, 2011 - 07:38

    This is just one more example of why religion needs to be banished.

    • PETER
      November 03, 2011 - 09:29

      CHRIS, this has noting to do with religion, it is about people using a position to abuse children. According to your logic we should also ban sports, boy scouts, girl guides, and all other groups that have abused children, and all groups have. Banning religion will not stop this, pedophiles will just find other ways to abuse, out of the 7 billion people in the world, about 75 to 80% belong to some sort of religion, how could you ban that? Your comment is very mis-guided