Church sales in Newfoundland bring justice to victims of abuse and leave longtime parishioners in need of a new spiritual home.
For the first time during this papal visit to Canada, Pope Francis acknowledged the sexual abuse perpetrated by “some [the] sons and daughters” of the Church in Canada, describing them on July 28 as “scandals that require firm action and irreversible commitment.”
“Together with you, I would once again like to ask for forgiveness from all the victims,” he said. “The pain and shame we feel must become an opportunity for conversion: never again!
The long-awaited moment of institutional remorse for Indigenous and non-Indigenous survivors of sexual abuse came as Catholics in one part of the country not included in this papal journey pursued their own difficult path to reconciliation emerging from another. source of national angst.
In the Canadian maritime province of Newfoundland, a group of elderly survivors of abuse at Newfoundland Hospital Mount Cashel Orphanage finally receive compensation ordered by a landmark decision in 2020 that went against the Archdiocese of St. John’s. But to fund the settlement, the archdiocese had to sell dozens of church properties, including some church buildings themselves with stories stretching back generations.
A group of elderly survivors of abuse at Newfoundland’s Mount Cashel Orphanage are finally receiving compensation ordered by a landmark 2020 ruling that went against the Archdiocese of St. John’s.
“I grew up in Catholic schools and we were taught the Holy Trinity with the shamrock: home, school and church,” said Patricia Walsh-Warren, life member of St. Patrick’s Church and regional organizer for Development. and Peace (Caritas Canada), in an interview with America. St. Patrick’s “was our church. Home was home and school was school. And that was it. These are the three main components of my childhood in St. John’s.
Ms. Walsh-Warren grew up in the parish with six siblings. Just like her parents, who met at St. Patrick’s. And after getting married there nearly 25 years ago, she continued the tradition by raising her five children at St. Patrick’s as well.
Now St. Patrick’s has been sold to Howard Real Estate Group, and its office and community center have been purchased by a local law firm act as an agent for an unknown buyer. Sales of 42 other diocesan properties – including a dozen other churches – have so far been approved by the courts.
The sales follow a final call to the Provincial Supreme Court which concluded that the Archdiocese was ‘vicariously liable’ for the sexual abuse carried out by some Irish Christian brothers decades ago at the Mount Cashel orphanage against the boys in their care. The court ruled that the Archdiocese and the Mount Cashel Brethren worked in a sufficiently close relationship that the Archdiocese should have better supervised the conduct of the Brethren. His failure to prevent abuse made him equally accountable to survivors.
St. Patrick’s “was our church. Home was home and school was school. And that was it. These are the three main components of my childhood in St. John’s.
While Mount Cashel survivors of the 1970s and 1980s received compensation more than 20 years ago following the provincial Hughes Inquiry, older survivors were not included in the settlements at that time. . This case opens the door to dozens of former residents from the 1940s to 1960s who had yet to get justice for the abuse they suffered.
Growing up in Mount Cashel, ‘all the time there was fear’, John Doe No. 26 told CBC News. “My memory of this will never fade.”
(A court order protects the identity of Mr. Doe and that of other survivors, the norm in sexual abuse cases in Canada. Each of the dozens of survivors has been assigned a number by the courts to distinguish them. )
Survivor No. 26 described the brutality he suffered as “like something you would see in a concentration camp”. The brothers forced the boys to whip themselves in front of their classmates, he said. They competed to see who could hit the kids the hardest. They caressed, kissed and raped the children entrusted to them.
“I don’t like hurting people… But the church is responsible for that, so the church has to pay,” he said. “It is necessary for me. I think it’s necessary for the other boys.
Each of the four plaintiffs in this decision – including John Doe No. 26 – received $1.9 million in damages. Now four other law firms collectively representing more than 100 other survivors are expected to file more claims. The archdiocese expects settlement costs to eventually exceed $39 million.
And the Archdiocese of St. John’s doesn’t have that kind of money. He was forced to do what many thought was unthinkable: liquidate hundreds of properties in 34 parishes to raise the funds needed to compensate the survivors.
“I don’t like hurting people, but the church is responsible for that, so the church has to pay. It is necessary for me. I think it’s necessary for the other boys.
After processing their shock from the initial news, many parishioners quickly mobilized to save the churches where they had worshiped for generations. Not all have succeeded, but some have.
“The community feels relieved,” said Rob Blackie, spokesman for a coalition that successfully placed the winning bid of just over $2.3 million for St. John’s Cathedral Basilica. Baptist, the Saint-Bonaventure College run by Jesuits and the nearby community center, St. Bon’s Forum.
The new owners want Saint John’s Basilica to continue to be a place of worship. The college and forum will also continue to serve the community.
“This is the start of a new era for [St. Bonaventure’s College]and it really is a revival,” said Mr. Blackie, who also expressed excitement about improving the school’s curriculum and helping shape more public programs at the basilica.
“There is a huge amount of optimism,” he added.
However, not all congregations were so lucky.
“Each parish had to give up its pool of funds, which was administered by the archdiocese, to meet the demands of the claimants – the victims of the abuse,” said Derm Whelan, a member of St. Paul’s Parish in St. John’s. . This meant that parishes had to raise additional funds each Sunday, not only to pay their regular obligations, but also to raise funds for the colony. “A lot of them have issues,” Mr Whelan said. “Two of them have closed.”
Many parishioners quickly mobilized to save the churches where they had worshiped for generations. Not all succeeded.
Representatives of some of the purchased parishes are in the process of reaching agreements with new owners that could allow the parish properties to continue to operate as churches. But other parish properties have been bought up by developers who plan to use the land for other purposes.
Mr Whelan’s church was eventually purchased by the Archdiocesan Renewal Corporation and will continue to operate, but the fate of other churches that have not received acceptable offers remains unclear.
But Mrs. Walsh-Warren and the other members of St. Patrick’s are no longer faced with the question of whether they will have to leave their parish, but when. The heartbreaking process of saying goodbye to a home they have known for generations has already begun.
Ms Walsh-Warren said her mother “still goes to mass alone every Sunday. She is quite active for a woman of almost 88 years old.
“But when we sat down after mass last Sunday…I was just talking about the practicalities [of closing the church]she just stops and she looks at me and she says, ‘It’s really happening.’
“And she just closed her eyes and just shook her head.”
“I don’t think reality will fully set in until we have that final Mass in September.”
Mrs. Walsh-Warren’s parents were active in the parish for decades. They were both Eucharistic ministers and her mother was involved in the Catholic Women’s League. His father was a member of the parish Knights of Columbus chapter. When her father died, her mother donated a statue of the risen Christ which was blessed on what would have been the couple’s 56th anniversary.
Currently, the statue rests above the altar. But soon he will have to find a new home, with the rest of the parish.
“St. Patrick’s Church is one of the churches, if not the only one, that remains open every day in the city so that people can just go there for silent prayer. So it’s a huge loss for all the city itself,” Ms. Walsh-Warren said. “I don’t think reality will fully set in until we have that final mass in September.”
Sales of ecclesiastical properties are expected to continue, according to a letter from Archbishop Peter Hundt. Ernst & Young, the court-approved monitor, will outline a strategy to sell 19 properties that did not receive acceptable offers and 70 other properties in the Burin and South Avalon areas of the archdiocese.
Knowing that funds from church sales will go to survivors brings some comfort to congregations in St. John’s.
“Many, many victims died without seeing an end to this. So yeah, it’s definitely a light at the end of the tunnel, that we’re finally dealing with something that needed to be addressed,” Ms Walsh-Warren said. “The parishioners, including my father, would be happy to know that the victims are being paid to see justice done.”
“I see this as a tremendous moral victory,” Mr Blackie said. “And I think those involved in fundraising are proud to be part of the effort.”