Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 29: Justice (25-42)

$104M awarded to sexual abuse victims of Mount Cashel and N.L. priests

July 5, 2024

Settlement figure is more than double what church has raised so far through property sales

John GushueTerry Roberts 

A night time view of a church towering above a darkened city skyline.
The Roman Catholic church in eastern Newfoundland has already sold numerous properties, including the iconic Basilica of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s. A group of citizens purchased the 19th-century property. (Submitted by Dale Brow)

CBC News: A third-party insolvency monitor has put forward a sum of $104 million to pay the victims of sexual abuse by Newfoundland and Labrador clerics, but it’s not certain how much money will actually flow to hundreds of claimants. 

A four-page document filed with Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court by George Kinsman, a senior vice-president of Ernst & Young, puts the net claim award at $104,074,667. 

Among the 367 claims filed, 292 have already been accepted, while 65 were disallowed and 10 are considered pending. 

The document says the average payment to a claimant is $356,417. 

The document, released Friday, is the latest step in a saga that started in 1987 with charges against one priest and would expand to a series of scandals that closed the Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John’s and recently forced the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. to sell churches and other property to settle claims. 

But the church’s earlier bill was estimated to be $50 million, when there were about 100 claimants.

The church has raised more than $40 million by systematically selling off assets on the Avalon Peninsula, including a $13-million deal for the Newfoundland and Labrador government to buy former Catholic school properties.

‘I think they’ve got that right’

Lawyer Geoff Budden, whose firm represents 189 of the accepted claims, told CBC News he’s satisfied with the third-party monitor’s calculation. 

He noted that some clients, though, may feel unsatisfied. 

A man in a grey suit and dark red tie sits in front of bookshelves lined with books and binders.
Lawyer Geoff Budden, whose firm represents 189 of the accepted claims, says he’s satisfied with the third-party monitor’s calculation but acknowledges some clients may feel unsatisfied. (Mike Simms/CBC)

“There are individuals who feel the numbers are perhaps a little low. There are others who feel or are quite pleasantly surprised,” he said Friday. 

“So there may be individuals who appeal, but as an aggregate, from my familiarity, the law … I think they’ve got that right.”

Budden said different claimants have had very different experiences over the years. Some spoke to the police decades ago, while some stepped forward about historical abuse at the hands of clergy or Christian Brothers, the lay order that ran Mount Cashel and several schools, only in the last few years. 

“We see it really, I guess, as not as an aggregate number, but as 200 individual numbers,” he said. “So that’s 200 conversations we have to have with clients.… In each instance, it’s a triggering conversation.” 

While the $104-million settlement is more than double what has been raised through land sales, Budden still expects all of his clients to receive what they are owed. 

“I’m optimistic that we can. So yes, you could say I’m confident,” he said. 

Property sales still underway

The church is still selling properties, and Budden says there’s potentially a large payout from two insurance policies. Both insurance companies are fighting such a move. 

The onus, Budden said, is now on the Newfoundland and Labrador government to finalize a matter that has dragged on for decades. 

A white and red brick building is pictured through trees.
The Mount Cashel orphanage is seen here in 1989, the year an explosive scandal broke that rocked the Roman Catholic church. By that time, police had already begun charging priests in unrelated sexual abuse cases. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

“I think the scenario is that the government, which is already facing a number of lawsuits, will at some point — and some point fairly soon — we will have constructive dialogue with the government with the view to the government meeting its legal obligations,” he said. 

The Mount Cashel scandal exploded in 1989, and included reports of how a 1975 police investigation was quashed by the provincial Justice Department. The Hughes inquiry, ordered by the Newfoundland and Labrador government, found numerous failings in the child protection system. 

Meanwhile, the Winter commission — which was established by the Archdiocese of St. John’s — detailed how church officials would frequently transfer priests accused of sexually abusing children to other parishes. 

Subsequent complaints came forward over the years, with abuse claims at Mount Cashel alone dating as far back as the 1940s. 

The court filing notes that the accepted claims include deceased claimant estates. 

The archdiocese was found liable for Mount Cashel in 2020. The following year, it filed for insolvency. 

There is an appeal period of 45 days.