A Catholic priest abused teenage boys at a parish in Sydney, police allege

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 19 October 2018

A former Catholic priest, James Joseph Cunneen, aged 59, is facing a criminal trial in a New South Wales District Court in late 2018, charged with sexual offences which were allegedly committed thirty years ago against a number of teenage boys who were associated with the "Holy Name of Mary" Parish Rydalmere in Sydney's north-west.

According to information previously given in court (during preliminary proceedings in 2017), James Cunneen was born in New Zealand. In 1979, he joined a Catholic religious order (the Order of Friars Minor, which is known as the Franciscans). This order has priests working in a number of parishes in Australia and New Zealand. After working with the Franciscan order in Australia, Cunneen returned to New Zealand. By then, he had left the priesthood. Cunneen's defence solicitor told the 2017 hearing that, after returning to New Zealand, Cunneen 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 defence solicitor said.

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 offences which he allegedly committed against some teenage boys in Sydney's Rydalmere when Cunneen was a priest there in 1987-1989. The prosecutor told the November 2017 hearing: "The victims knew the defendant and were part of the church where he was the priest."

Some of the teenagers had been pupils at a Marist Brothers high school (now named St Patrick's Marist College) at Dundas in the same region of Sydney.

At the November 2017 hearing, Cunneen was granted bail pending the subsequent court proceedings. During 2018, a committal hearing (with a magistrate) was held in a Local Court. After the committal hearing, Cunneen was ordered to undergo a trial with a District Court judge. This trial is scheduled for late 2018.

The police investigation has been conducted by detectives from Rosehill Local Area Command in Sydney.

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 in Waverley, Sydney.