The Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John's is shown in 1989. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

St. John’s, N.L., diocese to sell property to settle Mount Cashel abuse claims

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Roman Catholic parishes in the St. John’s area will be undergoing significant restructuring in the months ahead as the archdiocese works to resolve the harm caused to victims of abuse at Mount Cashel orphanage, parishioners learned on the weekend.

“Over the coming weeks you may expect to see some properties listed on the real estate market,” read an email update from St. John’s Archbishop Peter Hundt.

“There may also be discussions at the parish level around potential changes that may come…We are still very much in an information gathering stage and when decisions are made we will communicate those directly.”

The letter was read both in live masses on Saturday and Sunday, as well as during online services throughout the archdiocese.

In January, the Supreme Court of Canada refused the organization’s application to challenge an earlier decision by the province’s Appeal Court, leaving the church liable for abuse committed at Mount Cashel in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

The recent court decision means the archdiocese has to pay the four lead plaintiffs about $2 million, divided among them.

There are dozens more survivors, and lawyers have said there’s now a clear path for them to seek compensation as well.

Hundt said in his letter there will be “consolidation and downsizing at both the diocesan and parish levels” to pay the costs from the legal actions.

The letter to parishioners also notes that the Christian faith isn’t based on buildings, and the church has a duty to be compassionate to victims who experienced abuse.

“If we remain firm in this belief in God’s goodness, and if we seek to reflect it in how we deal with our present situation, we can be assured that God will be with us in our efforts and that the final result will be a blessing to us all,” Hundt wrote.

The case first shook Newfoundland and Labrador decades ago, and the recent Supreme Court decision came as the result of a long legal process that determined the Roman Catholic diocese is vicariously responsible to the victims for abuse that took place at the hands of the Christian Brothers inside the notorious orphanage.

The court battle began in December 1999 and lawyers for the four lead plaintiffs estimate they’ve been in court 30 or 40 times to see the case through.

The victims, who were boys at the time of the abuse, are now in their 70s and 80s.

The orphanage was closed in 1990 and demolished in 1992. The horrors that took place inside its walls are largely seen to have played a role in a cultural shift away from the influence of the church.

A public inquiry into the abuse, known as the Hughes inquiry, was established in 1989, after which several Brothers were prosecuted and convicted.

After a winding series of court cases, which included the North American branch of the Christian Brothers order filing for bankruptcy, the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal determined in July that the city’s Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation was liable for the abuse.

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