An ex-priest in NSW court on sex charges from 30 years ago

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 16 November 2018

A former Catholic priest, James Joseph Cunneen, aged 59, is facing court proceedings in New South Wales in 2018 and 2019, charged with sexual offences which were allegedly committed thirty years ago against a number of young males who were associated with the "Holy Name of Mary" Parish Rydalmere in Sydney's north-west.

According to information given in a preliminary hearing, 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 the NSW court 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.

A police investigation was conducted by detectives from Rosehill Local Area Command of the NSW Police.

In November 2017, NSW Police extradited Cunneen back to Australia in custody. In Sydney's Central Local Court, police filed charges against Cunneen regarding some offences which he allegedly committed against some young males in Sydney's Rydalmere when Cunneen was a priest there in 1987-1989. The prosecutor told the court in the November 2017 hearing: "The victims knew the defendant and were part of the church where he was the priest."

Some of the alleged victims had previously been pupils at a Marist Brothers high school (now named St Patrick's Marist College) at Dundas in the same region of Sydney, the court has been told.

At the November 2017 procedure, 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 trialĀ is expected to be in early 2019. The court's case number for Cunneen is 2015/00347275.

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.