The now closed and demolished Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s, Nfld. Register file photo

369 abuse claims filed against St. John’s Archdiocese

  • December 13, 2023

More than 350 people have stepped forward with a claim of being sexually abused by the Christian Brothers of Ireland at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in the 1940s through ’60s or by Archdiocese of St. John’s clergy over time.

Dispute resolution company Globe Resolutions, Inc is now evaluating 369 claims to determine liability and settlement for each claimant from the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s (RCESJ). The adjudicators are expected to communicate the value of each claim on April 30.

Lawyer Geoff Budden and his team at Budden & Associates has worked to ensure each claim was filed before the court-mandated deadline of Sept. 30. Budden, the legal rep for some plaintiffs since 1999, expressed surprised at the final number of people.

“It was a little bit surprising to be honest. I knew it was going to be in excess of 200. It is a lot of claimants, but when you hear the stories, it is pretty obvious that a terrible amount of harm was done within the archdiocese,” said Budden. “I’m sure there are still many people out there who haven’t come forward and probably never will.”

Bob Buckingham Law filed 91 claims and 10 other law firms supported 52 applicants. Eight plaintiffs are representing themselves.

All settlement money will be paid by the RCESJ. In 2011, the Christian Brothers of Ireland went bankrupt because of the deluge of sex-abuse lawsuits filed against the order. Following a lengthy court process with setbacks along the way, the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal ruled in 2020 that the RCESJ was “vicariously liable” for the atrocities the original claimants suffered at Mount Cashel. The decision was upheld when the Supreme Court of Canada denied the RCESJ leave to appeal the lower court decision in 2021.

The RCESJ initiated its ongoing insolvency case by filing for bankruptcy in December 2021. Archbishop Peter Hundt acknowledged the difficulties St. John’s Catholics have experienced because of the archdiocesan restructuring.

“I know that the ongoing legal proceedings and the sale of church properties have been a great source of hurt and pain for the communities, parishes and individuals of this archdiocese,” wrote Hundt. “I am very grateful to all the clergy and parishioners who have provided support and assistance to each other and the broader Catholic community during this difficult time of change and restructuring.”

According to the report filed this month by court-appointed monitor Ernst & Young, closure on 79 properties, including 29 parishes, has netted over $22.8 million in net sale proceeds. 

Offers have been accepted on 31 other properties, including 18 churches, but the RCESJ and counsel still have work to do close these property sales. The Ernst & Young report stated, “the corporation remains confident that all properties with accepted offers will close prior to March 31, 2024.” The aggregate transaction value of these entities is $9.44 million.

Nine other RCESJ properties have not sold, but the buildings are still in use by the archdiocese. Eight of the nine structures are parishes. The combined valuation is $565,020. Eleven other assets not currently being used, and valued at $3 million, have also not attracted any satisfactory propositions. 

The estimated value the RCESJ hopes to provide if all 130 properties are sold is $35.86 million.

In addition, the episcopal corporation, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District are finalizing a settlement agreement. This accord will see the RCESJ sell its remaining right, title and interest in the land and structures of 38 schools for $13 million. The deal is expected to be finalized by Jan 31.

Budden has told The Catholic Register multiple times that $50 million would be a good sum to ensure everyone who files a claim receives appropriate compensation.

“While some of these claimants have received previous amounts, and some of that will likely be set off, I still think we will need more than $50 million to do this,” said Budden.

Once Globe Resolutions, Inc finalizes the value of each claim, Budden said he “does not see a reason why there cannot be an interim distribution” to abuse survivors immediately afterwards even if some property sales might not be finalized at the time.

Litigation involving the RCESJ is still underway, but this time it is embroiled in a legal battle with its former insurance company. The archdiocese had general liability insurance provided by Intact Insurance (formerly Guardian Insurance) from 1980-85. The Ernst & Young report stated Intact Insurance “has denied coverage for claims arising from sexual abuse under its policies on the basis of misrepresentations and/or nondisclosure of relevant facts by the RCECSJ.” The RCESJ is fighting this.

The first evidentiary hearing in this case occurred in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Nov. 3 to 9. Both sides were back in court again on Dec. 13. A decision is expected in 2024.

Last modified on December 15, 2023

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