Historian John FitzGerald, expert witness for the RC church, is seen prior to testifying Thursday at the Mount Cashel civil trial. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram
The 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.
FitzGerald, who reviewed historical documents and wrote a report on the relationship between the archdiocese and the Christian Brothers, said the Brothers were a separate incorporated entity.
He said the design of the orphanage was supervised by the Christian Brothers and modelled on the lay order’s much larger industrial school in Arcane, Dublin, Ireland.
The Brothers, he said, were up on the scaffolds and oversaw the construction. The facility opened in 1898.
He said priests were not the ones who admitted any boys to the orphanage, but noted in the earlier part of the 20th century, priests were often the only people in their communities with cars, and so were called upon for transportation, such as if someone needed to go to hospital.
FitzGerald said the Christian Brothers’ reputation, particularly in education, was sterling up until the sexual abuse scandal broke in the 1980s.
He said back in the 1940s and ‘50s, the Brothers were so well thought of in Newfoundland that families and people in the community would not challenge the Brothers if any allegations came forward.
One report from the era brought up at the trial today suggests there was a dialogue between the archdiocese and Brothers about allegations concerning the actions of an orphanage worker and the documentation shows that the Brothers indicated the matter would be referred to the RCMP — which then had jurisdiction for the area in which Mount Cashel in was located. FitzGerald said that indicates the Brothers handled the matter, not the archdiocse.
As for the parish that was on site, FitzGerald said it was small and would not have had the money for separate quarters so by the grace of the Brothers, there was a apartment connected to the orphanage for the parish priest.
He said priests assigned there were usually elderly or of ill health, as it was seen as a light-duty parish.
Look for expanded coverage in The Telegram online and in print Friday.
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