Catholic Church found liable for abuse of N.L. altar boys

St. John's Telegram, Canada/February 10, 2009

St. John's, N.L. - Eight former altar boys may have won their day in court against the Roman Catholic Church, but their fight for compensation for abuse they endured at the hands of a priest is far from over.

In fact, their lawyer says it could take years of further court battles before the matter is settled.

"The church has been anything but conciliatory with this," Greg Stack said Tuesday. "They've fought it all the way. There's still no readiness on their part to settle."

On Monday in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's, Justice David Osborn ruled the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. John's is liable for the sexual abuse of the eight boys by the late Rev. Jim Hickey.

Hickey was parish priest in Parker's Cove and Rushoon, on the Burin Peninsula, during the late 1970s when the abuse occurred.

In 1989, he was convicted of sexual abuse and was sentenced to five years in jail. Hickey died in 1992.

The Hickey case sparked a massive scandal, which led to allegations against other clergy, as well as members of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a community of religious brothers within the Roman Catholic Church who operated the infamous Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John's.

Several priests and brothers were convicted and sentenced to jail terms.

Stack said the eight former altar boys in this case are relieved that after 10 years in court, the church has finally been found liable for their abuse.

However, he's upset the church has continued to challenge the cases, "even in the face of overwhelming evidence."

He said the abuse has had a devastating impact on the victims.

"They're grown men now and many of them are still undergoing counselling," he said. "This cannot be trivialized as just sexual abuse. It was an ongoing systematic abuse.

"These boys come from the most devout religious families and the fact that this was a priest, who was looked upon as a God figure, was especially difficult for them to deal with. It was a total loss of faith."

Stack said he has already presented the Church's lawyers with claim letters, reporting the impact the abuse had on the victims.

He expects there will eventually be a court assessment, meaning the victims may have to testify about their abuse and how it's affected them before a judge. He said psychiatrists and counsellors would likely also take the stand.

"Just when things will get moving on this? I don't know," he said. "Hopefully sooner than later."

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