It is strange and disheartening to see one of the most important and untouchable institutions of my youth brought down so low.
Growing up in St. John’s, NL, in a Roman Catholic family, the Church touched almost every aspect of my life. My family dutifully joined thousands of Catholics for mass each Sunday in the town’s churches, and I attended schools run by the now infamous Christian Brothers of Ireland, a lay Catholic order which ran a number of boys-only schools in the city. . They also ran the famous Mount Cashel Orphanage which wreaked havoc in the lives of many orphans who lived there, as they were sexually abused by a number of brothers they were “careful of”.
Personally, I found that most of the brothers who taught me were good educators and genuinely cared about the welfare and academic progress of their students, but it only takes a few bad apples to upset the whole cart.
In 2019, the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal ruled that the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s, the secular arm of the archdiocese, was vicariously liable for sexual abuse at Mount Cashel during the 20th century.
Court rules archdiocese allowed brothers to commit decades of sexual and physical abuse with impunity and awarded $2.4 million in damages to four survivors, paving way for more claims of 100 others.
The archdiocese would now have to pay tens of millions of dollars, if not more, that it does not have in compensation for the many survivors of abuse.
This means that everything the archdiocese owns, including large tracts of land and each of the 34 parishes it runs, is now up for sale.
The Catholic Church had been held in very high esteem by its members in St. John’s for hundreds of years, but its credibility took a big hit when news of what had happened at Mount Cashel, along with sexual irregularities committed by some priests in other regions. of the archdiocese in the late 1980s, and this latest news has seen that trust between the church and its people eroded even further.
The fact is that church members in almost all of these 34 parishes that are now for sale have invested large amounts of their own money and time to help with the ongoing upkeep of these facilities for many years.
In some cases, they actually built them from scratch using their own resources, and now the church plans to sell them to the highest bidder so they can be converted into condos or other private businesses. This is a slap in the face and I read that a parish priest in a small community I lived in left the church because of this issue and opened a pizzeria.
Then there’s the iconic Basilica of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s, the nation’s second-largest Catholic church and center of the city’s Catholic faith, which is also up for sale.
The basilica was built in the late 1800s mainly by poor Irish immigrants who had escaped the potato famine in their home country.
Most laborers who worked the dangerous and backbreaking work did so simply for the free lunch that was provided in the middle of each working day.
But they built a beautiful structure that has since become a symbol of faith in the center of town.
The idea that this long-standing church that has been so important to many generations of Catholics could be purchased, renovated, and turned into a huge condo project must be devastating to many. I can’t help but think that if the Archdiocese had properly treated its members who abused children at the time the crimes were committed and handed them over to prosecution, instead of trying to hide their actions, the archdiocese probably wouldn’t be in this pathetic situation today.
But now the price for this error must be paid.
I suspect that the church of my youth in St. John’s will not recover from this debacle.