St. John’s Telegram
Published on November 3, 2011
The wheels of justice, according to Sun Tzu, grind slowly but exceedingly fine. It’s unfortunate that, sometimes, they grind so slowly that the impact of their work upon the grist of life isn’t properly appreciated. Wednesday, Newfoundland Supreme Court Judge Richard Leblanc issued a judgment on an exceedingly procedural case: basically, Guardian Insurance wanted to re-open an effort to drop their financial coverage of the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation for lawsuits connected to abuse by Father Jim Hickey.
Guardian’s argument was that they had been provided with false information about what senior members of the archdiocese knew and when they knew it. In the end, they lost their case and were told they should continue their coverage. But what Guardian said they were lied to about is very interesting, especially to anyone hurt by Hickey’s actions.
For the first time, the insurance company disclosed they had first-person evidence, given under oath, that a member of the episcopal community had told Archbishop Alphonsus Penney directly that Hickey was sexually abusing boys — something that Penney, also under oath, has denied knowing about until Hickey’s arrest in 1987.
Rather than paraphrasing what the judge said about the insurance company’s information, here it is in his own words. The judge refers to the evidence given in a discovery hearing by “Randy Joseph Barnes, a former seminarian posted in Rushoon when James Hickey was the parish priest there. His discovery actually took place, based upon what is before me, on August 31, 1993. … During that discovery, Mr. 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. Mr. Barnes said in his discovery that he had met with Archbishop Penney in or about May of 1980 and disclosed this to him. This disclosure was apparently made at a meeting that Mr. Barnes had with the Archbishop at the time he was also advising him that he wished to take a leave from being a seminarian. At the time, Mr. Barnes indicated that he told Archbishop Penney that when in Rushoon, James Hickey had been sexually abusing boys as well as another seminarian. According to Mr. Barnes, it appeared to him that the Archbishop was not listening and indicated that he would take the matter into consideration. Such evidence obviously contradicts the evidence given by Archbishop Penney in his own discovery …”
The problem, of course, is that Barnes’ statement says he told Penney in 1980, before Hickey’s extensive abuse of boys when he was moved to the parish of Portugal Cove, and before Hickey’s later posting to Ferryland. The evidence would mean that Penney was aware of the allegations even before Hickey began what was known as the “altar boy jamboree” program, bringing altar boys together from all over the archdiocese.
Both Barnes and Penney, it must be repeated, gave sworn testimony. The conflict between the statements is startling: the clear suggestion is that there was an opportunity to rein Hickey in before his transgressions continued.
There are those who will say that this is old news, that the standards in the church and, for that matter, in society, are far different now than they were in the 1970s and ’80s. That’s a legitimate point.
But the better we understand the past, the better chance we have of avoiding making similar mistakes again.