Abuse cases could be settled: lawyer

Barb Sweet
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Alphonsus Penney

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.


Organizations: Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland and Labrador, Christian Brothers, Supreme Court Episcopal Guardian Insurance Company of Canada

Geographic location: Rushoon, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Barbara
    November 07, 2011 - 12:59

    You know I grew up in the east end during the late 50's and 60's and early 70's how stupid are people this was going on then the kids who endured it knew, but they'd get a bat in the head if you said father or sister did anything wrong. As a child you huddle together in doorways and behind schools and whispered the unthinkable to your best friend cause you had to tell someone it was going on. You made them promise and swear they wouldn't tell cause life was not bearable if others knew at least that's how my friend described it. We'd sit for hours trying to figure out how to get him out of being a helper in the church, but that was an honor then and no mother would excuse her son. My friend took his own life a few years later. after that no one had to worry about it. to this day I not only blame the priests and the church but the parents of that era as well they choose to be blind to the truth. had they not more children may have been saved from the abuse.

    November 05, 2011 - 16:23

    GERRY CONNERS, not only churches but boy scouts, girl giudes, C.L.B. , sports groups, teachers, work bosses, doctors, and many other groups have also been involved in child abuse or other forms of sexual abuse. Religion isn't the bain of mankind, the perverts who abuse positions of trust are the bain, not religion. There are billions of religious people in the world who do not abuse, so don't just leave the blame on religion, it's people, pure and simple, who use power to abuse. Too bad people just can't get this through their heads. Unfortunately, the catholic church did nothing about it and that is what makes it so hard to accept, they knew and encouraged it, other groups did something.

  • Gerry Connors
    November 05, 2011 - 00:26

    Kieran - November 4, 2011 at 13:51:24 The Roman church has lost all credibility. They deny equal rights to gays and women while innocent children are molested. Even the Pope knew about pedophilia in the church and did nothing about it!! Every Catholic of good conscience should do what I did many years ago: leave the abominable Roman church and become an Anglican!! ...ah yes Kieran, all Anglicans are a saintly bunch; do some research before slamming one religion & glorifying another ...I was born an RC but gave up on the Roman Catholic Church and ALL RELIGION years ago. Religion, ALL relgion is and has been the bane of mankind since time immortal; most wars-conflicts throughout time have at least some underlying religious tone. Though I may beleive in One God, I give Him-Her thank daily; I can happily say I am not a 'religious' person, & I don't think She-He gives a damn,,,,

  • theresa williams
    November 04, 2011 - 20:20

    come on now ,not taking the catholic churches side but wasnt the ang, salv and all the other religions doing the same thing?withall the child porn that wasnt the catholics so lets include them all they are all tarred with the same brush.

  • Seville
    November 04, 2011 - 19:47

    Lawyer for the victims: nothing in evidence suggesting leaders within the RC Church were aware of the sexual abuse. ArchB Penny faced Criminal charges in 1987: not guilty. Telegram's concluding statement: Penny should be charged and “we expect better of our bishops,” The Telegram: biased rhetoric and sensationalism with no concern for balanced and professional journalism. See if they publish this...

    November 04, 2011 - 17:56

    so youre saying that by priests being allowed to marry and such would have prevented this ????? .....holy lord ( pardon the pun) ...it was little boys not little girls .....and do ya honestly think there are not people in great marriages these days who are not pedophiles or copy and sell child pornography .....GIMME A BREAK!!!!!....in saying this ...iam not saying what happened isnt an atrocity ....because it is .....all priests ...should have their sexual glands removed ....VOW OF CELIBACY ....do they not say this?

  • SR
    November 04, 2011 - 14:44

    Further, to what I wrote above. I remember when my mom was in hospital and a catholic preist came to visit her. He was rude beyond beleif and at the time I had just finished reading "Unholy Orders" by Michael Harris and to see how they go around thinking they did nothing wrong amazes me... In my opinion they are all alike (catholic preists) for the simple fact they dont come forward and speak up and defend the people who had their lives destroyed by "THEIR BROTHERS" how come they dont go to bat for the innocent lives that were destroyed by the unforgiveable behaviour the other preists caused... if they were so "great" blah blah blah... they would have came forward. They are all alike.. the whole church did their part in keeping this covered up and they deserve to be SHUT DOWN COMPLETLY!!!!!!!!!! My only wish is that the peoples lives who were destroyed by this church keep your head high and don't be ashamed... you did nothing wrong... don't be afraid to speak about it, because ALOT of people will listen to you and support you.

  • No Longer R.C.
    November 04, 2011 - 13:14

    To: No Religion; Allowing priests to marry would not have helped such individuals as these perverts because they are pedophiles. Also, as YesSir stated, police, RCMP, Government officials, parents, schools, etc., were also at fault that these horrendous offences continued.

  • Kieran
    November 04, 2011 - 12:21

    The Roman church has lost all credibility. They deny equal rights to gays and women while innocent children are molested. Even the Pope knew about pedophilia in the church and did nothing about it!! Every Catholic of good conscience should do what I did many years ago: leave the abominable Roman church and become an Anglican!!

  • No Religion
    November 04, 2011 - 11:28

    If the Catholic Church would remove the rule of forbidding Priests and others involved in the church to have relationships and marry... Maybe none of this would of ever happened! Not saying that is a good reason for any of them to do what they have done, it's absoluting disgusting... Just putting it out there... Hense why I personally have given up on religious beliefs. Personal relationships are a part of human nature!

  • new low for The Telegram
    November 04, 2011 - 10:08

    A new low for The Telegram. Come up with an editorial comment and then going looking for someone to say it so they can publish it, even if it a random blogger who is completely removed from the situation.

  • Derrick
    November 04, 2011 - 09:44

    To SR....and to think that people still go to mass to listen to these fools amazes me. How brainwashed are we at all? I gave up going to mass long ago. Just a mental picture of the priests doing what they did to innocent little boys is enough for me to never go again.

  • D. Maria Paul
    November 04, 2011 - 09:30

    It is disgraceful how the Roman Catholic Church has handled this volitile issue of sexual abuse. Given the basis of their institution, the teachings of Love and Compassion of Jesus Christ, it comprimises the beliefs many Catholics hold dear. The shame that pedofiles, within the institution, have brought upon those priests who are genuinely spiritual and true to their faith has only been magnified by Rome's neglect and refusal to deal efffectively with these horrific crimes against it's children. What is it Jesus said, to the effect: "if you harm one of these...it is better you have a stone around your neck and be tossed in the sea". Yet, the church chooses to support these vile acts against the most vulnerable. And they wonder why people are leaving this institution in droves. The Roman Catholic Church needs to practice its own teachings.

  • SR
    November 04, 2011 - 08:15

    The Catholic church would turn your stomach!! Makes me sick.. I'm ashamed to say I'm catholic for reasons like this. Shut the church down and give the money they have stashed away to all the people who's lives they have destroyed by their selfish behaviour. Every other day it's something new with a preist or church... give me a break... the church is a disgrace.. I wouldnt even let a Catholic preist marry me after what they did to other innocent families, nor will I let the Catholic church be a part of my children's lives.... the church should be banished!! Signed ~ Sick to death of hearing about what the Catholic church did to so many innocent people!!

    • Ex-Catholic
      November 04, 2011 - 09:03

      Me tooo ashamed. As a child I reported what I heard about one priest and got grounded since he lied about that too when confronted. My family too was abused by this socalled religion. They should shut the doors and burn all the RC churches and give victims a front row seat to watch. To all the victims-live for today knowing that you have people like us wishing you all the best in your future. Chatabout it with anyone who will listen because it will help knowing that someone is willing to listen. This way it will never be forgotten-lest we forget!

    • yessir
      November 04, 2011 - 09:51

      Lets not stop there. We should banish the police and government for their participation in this disgusting piece of history. We should also ban all the schools and parent that knew about this and turned a blind eye. With so many people involved in this conspiracy you know the Telegram knew or should have known of what was going on and they stayed silent, ban them too. How many more things have happened and are still going on that these groups are still participating in.

      November 04, 2011 - 12:16

      Its the individuals how did these things and covered them up not the church. Do we blame all of the RC?