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

Bill comes due in St. John's: $104 million for abuse victims

  • July 8, 2024

The Archdiocese of St. John’s must pay over $104 million to 292 survivors of abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage during the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s or at the hands of archdiocesan clergy.

Individual settlements for successful claims range between $55,000 to $850,000. The average net claim award value is approximately $356,000 per plaintiff.

Globe Resolutions Inc., the mediation company appointed as claims officer, disallowed 65 applications. However, the denied claimants will have 45 days to file an appeal after they receive their official Notice of Determination. Meanwhile, 10 cases are still pending a decision.

Lawyer Geoff Budden, whose firm represented 219 of the 367 petitioners, has worked towards July 5, the date the settlements were published by court-appointed monitor Ernst & Young Inc., for nearly a quarter century. He told The Catholic Register that the aggregate sum of $104 million is “where I would expect almost 300 men with this range of abuse to come in at in terms of damages.” Regarding individual assessments, the civil litigator acknowledged some claimants will be “pleased” and others may be “disappointed.”

Budden characterized the post-settlement calls as a “big and somewhat triggering event” for the abuse survivors. He and his associates aspire to be as meticulous as possible in explaining the process. They also take the time to answer all questions and empathetically listen to each client’s thoughts and concerns.

Aug. 28 is the next court date in the bankruptcy and insolvency proceedings for the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s (RCECSJ). Details about pending and appealed claims are expected to be provided. Budden anticipates that a “distribution process will flow" out of that hearing so survivors could receive their initial disbursements in early September.

In response to the Newfoundland Court of Appeal ruling in July 2020 that the archdiocese was “vicariously liable” for atrocities committed by the Christian Brothers of Ireland at Mount Cashel and the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal in January 2021, RCECSJ filed for bankruptcy and started liquidating assets.

Archbishop Peter Hundt confirmed in an email that approximately $43 million is accrued for the survivors by selling over 110 property assets and transferring the title, right and interest for 38 schools to the province and the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.

In response to the valuations, Hundt wrote: “The Archdiocese is respectful of the work of the claims officer in preparing its Notices of Determinations and will continue to work collaboratively with the court and legal counsel for the claimants in determining a fair and just settlement of these claims.”

Hundt added the archdiocese “will continue to liquidate RCECSJ property for the benefit of the claimants.”

The April 12 court monitor report filed by Ernst & Young, the latest to shed light on the liquidation process, stated that 17 unsold archdiocesan properties — six still in use and 11 inactive — have a combined valuation of over $3.3 million. Thus far, these lands or structures are not generating substantial market interest.

Finding a way to sell off those assets would have put the RCECSJ close to reaching the original estimate of $50 million needed in case around 100 claimants emerged. Budden and the other lawyers representing plaintiffs are waiting to see if two insurance policies can fetch a substantial sum. However, the two companies — Intact Insurance (which bought out Guardian Insurance) and Northbridge Insurance — are contesting having to pay.

Budden said the Newfoundland and Labrador government needs to consider its responsibility in helping to close this odyssey.

“It also has to be kept in mind that most of the survivors of this abuse were, to one degree or another, in the care of the province of Newfoundland at the time they were abused,” said Budden. “They were either at Mount Cashel, or they were in schools. Either way, they were in the care of the state, either directly or indirectly. We will be looking at the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to likewise (realize) they have a role in resolving this.”

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