N.L. Archbishop told about sexual abuse in 1980: court documents

Court documents suggest that a Catholic Church leader in St. John's was aware of allegations of sexual abuse against Father James Hickey in 1980 – many years earlier than he testified he was aware of them at a commission into sexual abuse by priests.
Father James Hickey at Brother Rice High School during the 1979-80 school year. (Brother Rice High School)

Court documents suggest that a Catholic Church leader in St. John's knew about allegations of sexual abuse against Father James Hickey in 1980 – many years earlier than he testified he was aware of them at a commission into sexual abuse by church officials.

In 1992, Archbishop Alphonsus Penney told the Winter Commission that he first learned of allegations against Hickey in 1987.

In 1989, Penney told CBC's Rex Murphy that he could not understand how abuse by priests went on for so long without church leaders knowing about it

"It's a great mystery to me how such a thing could go on for so long without somebody blowing the whistle …every, every case, every complaint of this type of thing that has ever come to my attention, I've always addressed it," said Penney.

Documents filed at the Supreme Court of Newfoundland Oct. 31, 2011 state that Randy Joseph Barnes told Penney in 1980 that Hickey had engaged in sexual activity with boys in Rushoon.

A former seminarian, Barnes was posted to Rushoon, on the Burin Peninsula, when Hickey was a parish priest there.

The claim is included in court documents filed in St. John's by an insurance company. The company argues the insurance policy it has with the church is not valid because the church did not disclose everything it knew or when it knew it.

The company said it therefore cannot be held responsible for any financial compensation from a civil lawsuit by a man alleging he was sexually abused by Hickey.

"[Guardian Insurance Company of Canada] filed a claim pleading that the insurance contracts are void based upon the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s failure to contract in good faith, due to a failure in its duty to provide full and complete disclosure regarding complaints involving James Hickey," says the document.

Despite the new evidence, Justice Richard LeBlanc denied the insurance companies application and ruled that Guardian is "required to defend the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John's … and to indemnify it in accordance with the policy in place."

Over the past two decades, the church and its insurers have paid out millions of dollars to victims of sexual abuse by priests.