Saturday, January 29, 2011

Old crimes
Old crimes, fresh wounds

Father James Hickey gives communion at the old chapel in the former Brother Rice High School during the 1979-80 school year. The photo is from the Brother Rice High School yearbook.
Published on January 29th, 2011
Published on January 29th, 2011
Steve Bartlett
The Telegram Father James Hickey is long dead, but some are still seeking closure
Topics : Winter Commission , Dorchester , Mount Cashel Orphanage , Vatican
Almost two decades after his death, Father James Hickey’s legal and moral legacy lives


There are still a dozen outstanding claims against or involving the pedophile priest, who, in September 1988, pleaded guilty to 20 charges of sexual assault, gross indecency and indecent assault involving teenage boys.

“They’re at a snail’s pace, is what they are,” St. John’s lawyer Greg Stack said of the cases.

His firm represents the 12 victims.

Hickey was sentenced to five years for his crimes and sent to the federal penitentiary in Dorchester, N.B.

His case was a watershed because a high-profile priest had been charged. Other charges against Catholic clergy followed, as did the Winter Commission, a church-led inquiry into the sexual abuse of children by clergy.

Royal commission

Around the same time, revelations that Mount Cashel Orphanage residents had been sexually abused by their Christian Brother caretakers surfaced, and prompted a royal commission.

The abuse scandals had the whole province agog throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Hickey died in 1992.

A number of the boys he preyed upon have sought compensation and many were part of a 1997 settlement.

Stack said the priest’s victims have had little success since then, even though most had filed complaints against Hickey with the police and thought they would have been included in the original agreement.

“It’s like someone got the reins hauled in on us,” he said.

Stack began representing Hickey’s victims in February 1989.

Four current cases are before the courts, but no judgments have been made.

In the other eight claims, the victims were found to be entitled to compensation, but the amount hasn’t been determined.

There had been 11 victims in this latter group, Stack explained, but two have been compensated and another is awaiting his money.

Stack said the lawyers are discussing the files weekly, but the process crawls along.

“The legal representatives for the church are certainly dragging this out,” he said. “Why? I don’t know.”

St. John’s lawyer David Hurley is representing the church’s insurer, which is responsible for eight of the claims.

He couldn’t offer a reason as to why the settlements are taking so long.

“We’re hoping to get them all finished this year, if possible,” Hurley said.

The significance of the recently surfaced 1997 letter from the Vatican asking Irish bishops not to report sexual abusers to the authorities is not lost on Stack.

Similar letter could account for delay

He wonders if Rome sent such a letter to the St. John’s-based archdiocese that year, especially since the settlement of claims has almost come to a halt since then.

“Whether it’s something from the Vatican we may never know unless we get a WikiLeaks-type letter,” he said.

“If there’s a comparable letter that could account for (the delay in resolution here), I don’t know.”

Stack said the slow pace is disappointing for him and baffling for the victims.

“They are very frustrated with it,” he said.

According to Stack, approximately 50 of Hickey’s victims have sought compensation

Some of the claimants who were part of the 1997 settlement have found closure and “have put it behind them remarkably,” he said.

Others who were part of that settlement haven’t been so fortunate, he added, noting that one of them was hospitalized this past year.

“And it’s all psychiatric problems that stem from the Hickey matters. A couple of the victims have tremendous difficulty coping with life, just general life, as a result of what this did to them.”

Stack doesn’t believe all of Hickey’s victims have come forward and he said the length of time it’s taking to resolve claims isn’t going to prompt them to act.

Still, he doesn’t think the slow pace should deter someone who Hickey preyed upon from taking action.

“It depends on the individual. If they’re troubled by it, it does still provide closure to address it,” Stack said.

“It’s saying, ‘I’m not going to let this person get the better of me. I was a victim and I deserve compensation. ... But I also want acknowledgement that I was a victim. I want the church to be aware that I was a victim.’”

Stack said he’s sure the victims who’ve come forward have helped the church reconsider its situation and what it’s doing to the faithful.

“Because the victims, by and large, were the most faithful Catholics. I think a lot of good people in the church are for disclosure and against what was in the papal letter that was recently disclosed.”

Attempts to reach the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s and its legal counsel were unsuccessful

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