There’s nothing new for lawyer Greg Stack in evidence suggesting 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.
But what shocks Stack is that decades after the abuse, civil cases are still being dragged out.
“We are lost as to an explanation why the church continues to foot-drag the outstanding cases. They could settle them. There are not huge amounts involved. They have the cash resources,” Stack said Thursday.
“You would think it would be in their interest to get them all resolved and put behind them and move forward.”
Stack’s firm is handling 15 outstanding civil cases against the Roman Catholic church, most of them involving Hickey.
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.
Stack said the church doesn’t seem to be disputing prior knowledge anymore and the cases are down to quantifying damages. He said he believes current Archbishop Martin Currie is genuinely sincere when he expresses the hope the cases will be settled.
But Stack said they are bogged down in legal paper-chasing while clients are robbed of the chance to put the horrific memories and suffering behind them.
“As long as litigation is pending, it’s still an open sore, an open wound,” Stack said.
He said it’s clear a number of church officials had prior knowledge of priests’ abuse across the province.
“There are too many reports and affidavits,” he said.
Geoff Budden, who represents clients who suffered abuse at Mount Cashel orphanage, which was run by the Christian Brothers, said there’s now inconsistency in evidence about when Archbishop Alphonsus Penney may have known about Hickey’s actions, but he said it’s a scenario seen over and over again in abuse cases involving various brothers and priests.
He said that it has come up time and again in cases, that officials knew and did nothing to keep priests from preying on vulnerable parishioners.
“A lot of suffering would have been prevented,” he said.
“In all fairness, we were not hearing these things in 2006 and 2008. Lessons, thankfully, have been learned.”
The evidence about church officials’ knowledge of Hickey’s behaviour was contained in disclosures in the 1990s, but was made public Wednesday after being presented in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador 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, 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 and has previously testified he was not aware of any such problem with Hickey prior to 1987, when criminal charges were laid.
Guardian Insurance insists 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,” states the information from the Supreme Court.
Justice Richard LeBlanc dismissed the insurance company’s attempt to remove itself from the civil defence.
Sylvia MacEachern, a Catholic parishioner in Ottawa who runs a blog and database publicizing clergy sex abuse scandals, said she feels charges should be pursued against Penney for what he knew.
“We expect better of our bishops,” she said.