Sexual abuse 'always known to be evil,' lawyer tells Mount Cashel lawsuit judge
The Mount Cashel orphanage is shown in a 1989 photo. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, December 14, 2016 10:22AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 14, 2016 5:18PM EST
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- The Mount Cashel lawsuit is not about money -- it's to finally see local church officials held responsible for horrific abuse at the orphanage, a plaintiff said Wednesday as the case neared an end.
"I would really like to see that the church will be proven derelict in their duty to looking after youngsters," said the man, now in his 70s, who can't be identified under a court order.
"How can you hurt a child?" he asked. "I'll stay until I see that they have been brought to task."
He spoke outside provincial Supreme Court after closing arguments started Wednesday in the civil action led by former residents who claim church officials ignored repeated reports of sexual and physical attacks.
Lawyers for about 60 claimants say the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John's is liable for incidents dating back to the 1940s.
Lawyer Geoff Budden says church officials knew or ought to have known what was happening.
He took aim at defence arguments, including that attitudes toward physical punishment of children have changed over time.
"Some things are eternally regarded," he told Judge Alphonsus Faour.
"The sexual abuse of children was always known to be inherently wrong and evil."
Representative plaintiffs have alleged they were sexually abused and hit by the Christian Brothers of Ireland who ran Mount Cashel.
The former resident who spoke outside court Wednesday sat during the proceedings with his hands clasped, listening intently.
He described in a previous interview continuous beatings at the once-iconic institution in St. John's.
"They'd come to your bed at night," he said of the Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic order.
"They'd masturbate you and lie on top of you, rub you and kiss you and all of that. I used to try and say a prayer and, you know, it didn't work."
About 20 more men represented by other firms could be affected by a decision expected sometime next year.
The civil lawsuit seeks damages still to be outlined in court. It claims the church corporation was the ultimate authority overseeing the orphanage and was therefore responsible for the actions of Christian Brothers.
The Archdiocese of St. John's says it sympathizes with those who suffered, but was never responsible for the orphanage or school. Its lawyers and a witness who reviewed historical documents say the Irish Christian Brothers were independent of any direction from the archdiocese.
Budden, however, cited various correspondence in court Wednesday from the 1950s that he said affirm that local church officials oversaw Mount Cashel.
For example, a provincial minister in 1954 wrote a letter to local orphanage heads regarding funding. Budden notes that the minister wrote to the local archbishop about Mount Cashel, and not a senior Christian Brother at the time.
Another note from the period on Mount Cashel letterhead named a priest from the diocese as spiritual director of the orphanage.
Such exchanges "fatally undermine" counter-arguments by the episcopal corporation that church officials were merely involved in fundraising or other matters from a distance, Budden said.
Moreover, he said orphanage boys repeatedly told local priests, both inside and outside confession, about abuse at Mount Cashel.
"There is no evidence they did anything."
Plaintiffs in the case are from an earlier era who came forward when Mount Cashel abuse emerged as a public scandal with criminal convictions and a public inquiry starting in 1989.
It held hearings over 156 days on how justice and social welfare officials for years downplayed or hushed up complaints.
The statement of claim filed on behalf of Budden's clients back in 1999 originally named the Christian Brothers of Ireland Inc. as co-defendants.
But the North American branch filed for bankruptcy after a barrage of court cases and settlements. Their assets were ultimately liquidated and distributed more than two years ago -- including a $16.5 million settlement shared among about 420 claimants across North America, around 150 of them in Newfoundland.
Some of his clients in the ongoing lawsuit were paid from those funds, Budden has confirmed outside court. But he has said it was not adequate compensation for trauma that has scarred their lives ever since.
Mount Cashel was closed in 1990 and torn down two years later.
Closing arguments in the civil lawsuit are expected to wrap up this week after a 30-day trial.