Three agreed statements of facts were submitted to the Mount Cashel civil trial Monday from 1950s-era residents who told their parish priest during confession they were sexual abused by Christian Brothers.
Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s lawyer Susan Adam Metzler speaks with Father Frank Puddister and Archbishop Martin Currie (left) at the Mount Cashel civil trial Monday. Puddister is testifying Tuesday. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram
It was the 14th non-consecutive day of testimony in this trial — a John Doe lawsuit against the RC Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s seeks compensation and involves four test cases that claim the church should be held liable for the physical and sexual abuse of boys at the orphanage by certain Christian Brothers during the period late 1940s to early 1960s. The test cases represent about 60 claimants in the case being pursued by Budden and Associates.
The church contends it did not run the orphanage, therefore is not responsible for actions of the lay order Christian Brothers there.
Confession is sacred under canonical law and priests cannot breach its confidentiality.
The three statements entered Monday were all from former orphanage residents, but they are not among the test cases who have already testify. Among the statements, one man is a claimant in the larger pool of plaintiffs, another man had his case settled previously and the third man hasn’t commenced legal action, the court was told by lawyer Geoff Budden.
None of the former residents can be named.
One man’s statement – he was an orphanage resident from 1956-59 — said he had been both physically abused, as well as sexually abused by two Christian Brothers.
He said he told the St. Raphael parish priest about the sexual abuse by one Brother in confession in 1956.
St. Raphael was on the Mount Cashel property in what is now east-end St. John’s.
As the court previously heard from a canonical lawyer, a priest risks ex-communication if he divulges what was said to him in confession.
But according to the statement, the former resident, while he knew confession was confidential, understood the priest would find a way to speak to the Brother accused of the abuse. However the witness told lawyers the abuse continued until the Brother left the orphanage in 1957.
The witness said he was given penance, but there was no followup with the parish priest and he told no one else, other than referring to the orphanage as a rough place to his mother.
Another statement concerned the physical and sexual abuse reported by a man who was a resident from 1954-61. He said he told the same parish priest in confession in 1956 that he committed a sin with a Christian Brother, and was given penance. There was no follow up and he told no one else about abuse,
The same priest heard another boy’s confession about abuse in 1956 or 57. This boy – now a man – told lawyers in the agreed statement of facts that he told the priest during confession that he was sexually abused by two Brothers.
This boy was also given penance and there was no followup. Like the two statements, there was no further followup with the priest.
He said he was physically abused by a number of Brothers and sexually abused by three Brothers during his time there and sexual abuse continued until he left the orphanage in 1958.
The court also travelled back in time Monday to 1990 when the Hughes Inquiry was on, examining what failed in the Justice, police and social systems surrounding abuse of boys at the orphanage by Christian Brothers primarily in a different era – the 1970s and ’80s.
In the testimony, a priest now deceased — who also cannot be named due to a publication ban — was questioned about what happened following a visit by a employee who had been let go from the orphanage for stealing eggs.
The archbishop of the era was away in Rome at the time. As the civil trial has already heard, the employee reported that another man employed by the orphanage was abusing a boy. (It was also indicated a report was made to the RCMP at the time, but the boy denied it.)
According to the priest at Hughes, he left a report on the visit on the archbishop’s desk, but did not know what occurred afterward. He said he assumed the archbishop felt it had been handled because the employee accused of the sexual abuse was told to stay away from the orphanage.
The priest had also said that major abuses were something to be dealt with by the archbishop.
“Do you know why the civilian … came to The Palace rather than reporting to a member of the lay religious at Mount Cashel about the matter because the allegation did not in any way relate to a Christian Brother, it related to another civilian working at Mount Cashel? Do you know why he would have come to the Palace instead of spoken to the Christian Brothers about the matter?” inquiry lawyer David Day asked the priest at the Hughes Inquiry.
“I would presume that he wanted to go to the top, to the archbishop who had some authority at least over every Catholic institution, you know in the diocese,” the priest replied.
“Some authority over?” asked Day.
“But limited,” said the priest.
“To the extent that the archbishop had some authority over the papal institute the Christian Brothers, what was that authority?” David asked.
“Well, I can only say roughly because I need to study it — because I am rusty on all these things — but generally it would only be in regard to major abuses or such things like that, evident abuses the archbishop would step in, you know,” the priest replied. “Because ordinarily (the Brothers’) own superiors would handle it.”
If there was a major abuse that the Brothers couldn’t handle, they had an obligation to report it to the archbishop, the priest agreed during the questioning, but he said he was not aware of that happening.
Episcopal Corp. vicar general Father Frank Puddister is to testify Tuesday, as well as a sister of one of the men who are the test case plaintiffs.
Fear of horrific abuse is clearest Mount Cashel memory: former resident
Posted Jun 6, 2016 12:38 pm EDT
Last Updated Jun 6, 2016 at 5:29 pm EDT
by Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – There is one thing the elderly man most remembers about living at the Mount Cashel orphanage more than 60 years ago: fear.
“They had complete control over you,” he said of the Irish Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic order that ran the once-iconic institution in St. John’s, N.L. “You were beaten continually.
“They’d come to your bed at night,” said the man, now in his ’70s, who can’t be identified under a court-ordered publication ban.
“They’d masturbate you and lie on top of you, rub you and kiss you and all of that. I used to try and say a prayer and, you know, it didn’t work.”
He was in court Monday as a civil trial resumed in provincial Supreme Court involving about 60 claimants. They’re arguing the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s should compensate victims for alleged abuse dating back to the 1940s.
They are among former residents who came forward when Mount Cashel horrors at last became a public scandal with criminal convictions and an inquiry starting in 1989. It examined over 156 days how complaints to police and social service officials were for so long downplayed or ignored.
“I didn’t tell anybody until the Hughes Commission,” the former resident said Monday outside court. “What those kids went through, I went through.
“It would be meaningful to me that the church would finally own up to the negligence toward the responsibility that they had for the most vulnerable members of society. They just protect themselves.”
The Archdiocese of St. John’s says it was never responsible for the operations of the orphanage or school, though it sympathizes with those who suffered.
“The archdiocese remains focused on our daily work and service giving generously in the community, and promoting social justice,” it said in an emailed statement.
Lawyer Geoff Budden, representing about 60 claimants, says the archdiocese knew or ought to have known about sexual and physical abuse but didn’t stop it. The statement of claim, which has not been proven in court, says the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s had “direct authority over Mount Cashel because it was a pastoral work within the geographic territory of the corporation.”
About 20 more men represented by other law firms could be affected by a decision expected later this year or early next year.
Mount Cashel was closed in 1990 and torn down two years later.
The civil trial heard Monday that three boys separately told the same priest during confession they were being abused by Christian Brothers.
The boys lived at the orphanage in the 1950s and also can’t be named under the publication ban. Sometimes children became wards of the state because their parents had both died, other times because a single parent struggled to raise them.
The agreed statements of fact were entered Monday as part of the lawsuit.
One of them refers to physical abuse by one Christian Brother, and sexual abuse by another described as “sodomy.”
“Other than some general remarks to his mother that Mount Cashel was a rough place and that Brothers were beating the boys, he told nobody else about the abuse,” it says.
The statement also says the former resident had expected the priest — “while respecting the confidentiality of the confessional” — would speak to at least one of the Christian Brothers about what was happening.
Watching in court Monday was Gemma Hickey. She founded The Pathways Foundation in St. John’s in 2013, which offers support to survivors of religious institutional abuse.
Hickey, 39, reached a confidential agreement out of court several years ago for abuse at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest when she was young, she said in an interview.
“I think there was another way forward,” she said of the Mount Cashel lawsuit. “I encouraged the bishop … to settle.”
The lawsuit and related media coverage force survivors to re-live that pain, Hickey said.
“It triggers us, and it also re-traumatizes us as a province.”
Follow @suebailey on Twitter.
Long before the Boston scandal that inspired the award-winning movie Spotlight, men who once lived at the Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland allege they endured horrific abuse ignored by church officials.
Their civil lawsuit will return to provincial Supreme Court Monday as they argue the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s should compensate them for incidents dating back to the 1940s.
“The archdiocese was negligent,” Geoff Budden, a lawyer representing about 60 claimants, said in an interview. “They knew or ought to have known that abuse was occurring and did not stop it from happening.
“The second thing we’re arguing is that by basic legal principles, they are responsible for the actions of the Christian Brothers who were really their agents in running Mount Cashel.”
About 20 more men represented by other firms could be affected by a decision expected later this year or early in 2017.
The Archdiocese of St. John’s denied Mr. Budden’s claims in an e-mailed statement.
“While the Archdiocese of St. John’s was never responsible for the operations of the orphanage or the school at Mount Cashel, we have great sympathy for those that suffered and continue to as a result,” the statement said. “The archdiocese remains focused on our daily work and service giving generously in the community, and promoting social justice.”
The claims mostly date back to the 1940s and 1950s – about 30 years before reports of other Mount Cashel abuses in the 1970s led to criminal convictions against several Irish Christian Brothers, the Roman Catholic order that opened the orphanage in 1898.
There was also a royal commission of inquiry starting in 1989 led by retired Ontario Supreme Court judge Samuel Hughes. It held hearings over 156 days on how justice and social welfare officials for years downplayed or hushed up Mount Cashel complaints.
Related publicity prompted Mr. Budden’s clients to come forward about alleged sexual attacks and beatings decades before, he said.
The Christian Brothers were not clergy but took vows of celibacy, and for much of the last century wore religious habits. They were widely respected as influential community leaders known for good works and charitable causes.
The statement of claim filed on behalf of Mr. Budden’s clients back in 1999 originally named the Christian Brothers of Ireland Inc. as co-defendants. But the North American branch filed for bankruptcy after a barrage of court cases and settlements. Their assets were ultimately liquidated and distributed two years ago – including a $16.5-million settlement shared among about 420 claimants across North America, around 150 of them in Newfoundland.
Some of his clients in the ongoing lawsuit were paid from those funds, Mr. Budden confirmed.
“Our submission is it wasn’t adequate compensation for what happened to them.”
“They were abused in the orphanage. They suffered obviously not only the trauma of that, but while … most of the clients have led productive lives, they nevertheless believe the quality of their lives has in many, many ways been diminished by what they experienced as children.”
Four representative plaintiffs – now in their 70s and identified only as John Doe under terms of a publication ban – told their stories in court during the first phase of the trial earlier this spring.
The second phase scheduled over much of this month will hear from more former residents and students. Three psychologists, a psychiatrist and an economist are also set to testify about lasting effects, Mr. Budden said.
Compensation sought has not been specified and will depend on the client, he added.
“Two people can be abused in virtually identical ways but how it plays out in their lives can be very different.”
Mount Cashel was closed in 1990 and torn down two years later.