A former priest on child-sex charges regarding boys at a Marist Brothers school

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article posted on 24 November 2017

A former Catholic priest, James Joseph Cunneen, aged 58. was charged in a Sydney court on 23 November 2017 with multiple sexual offences which were allegedly committed thirty years ago against boys from a Marist Brothers school at Dundas in Sydney's west.

James Cunneen was born in New Zealand, the court was told. In 1979, he joined a Catholic religious order which has priests working in a number of parishes in Australia and New Zealand. After working in this religious order in Australia, he left the priesthood and returned to New Zealand.

Cunneen came to the attention of New South Wales police as a result of information given to Australia's child-abuse Royal Commission.

On 22 November 2017, NSW Police extradited Cunneen back to Australia in custody. He then appeared in Sydney's Central Local Court (by video-link from a police cell).

NSW Police charged him regarding some incidents which allegedly occurred in Sydney in 1987-1989. He faced eleven charges of sexual and indecent assault, allegedly committed against seven males aged between 14 and 20.

Opposing bail, the prosecutor told the court these were "serious sexual offences that carry terms of imprisonment from two to eight years".

"All of the victims knew the defendant and were part of the church where he was the priest," the prosescutor said.

"These were predatory offences committed against people who were vulnerable and of a young age … the defendant was in a position of trust and authority."

Applying for bail, Cunneen's defence solicitor told the court that in 1997, after serving as a priest in Australia, Cunneen returned to New Zealand, where he worked for the NZ Department of Education for the next three years. Since then, he has been running betting agencies across the North Island.

The magistrate granted bail on condition that Cunneen resides with a friend in Sydney's west, reports to police daily, surrenders his passport, does not go near children, and does not approach his alleged victims. Cunneen's friend was in court and offered $30,000 cash and a $600,000 house to secure Cunneen's bail.

The case of James Joseph Cunneen is scheduled to have another mention in Sydney's Central Local Court in February 2018.

FOOTNOTE: The 1994 edition of the directory of Australia's National Council of priests had a "Father James Cunneen, OFM" listed as a member of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor (OFM). Fr Cunneen was listed under the heading of "on leave", care of the Franciscans' Australian head office, 47 Victoria Street, Waverley, Sydney.