January 15th, 2021

Supreme Court denies appeal in Mount Cashel sexual abuse case in N.L.

By Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press on January 14, 2021.

The Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John's is shown on March 21, 1989. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – The Supreme Court of Canada has refused a bid by the Roman Catholic archdiocese in St. John’s to appeal a ruling that found it liable for sexual abuse at the former Mount Cashel orphanage.

Thursday’s court decision ends a legal battle that first shook Newfoundland and Labrador decades ago. It also determines once and for all that the church has a responsibility to the victims of the abuse that took place at the notorious former orphanage, at the hands of the Christian Brothers in the 1950s.

Geoff Budden, the victims’ lawyer, said the archdiocese will have to pay about $2 million, divided among the four lead plaintiffs in the case. There are dozens more victims, Budden said in an interview Wednesday, adding that a process will be set up to determine how much they may be entitled to.

St. John’s archdiocese issued a statement Thursday saying it will not comment on the court’s decision until it had reviewed it with lawyers.

“The archdiocese of St. John’s has immense sympathy for those who suffered abuse at Mount Cashel Orphanage,” the statement said. “We ask that all join with us in praying for healing for those who suffer as a result of the abuse.”

The public first learned about the sexual abuse that occurred at the orphanage in the 1980s. Following a public inquiry into the abuse, known as the Hughes inquiry, several Brothers were prosecuted and convicted. Mount Cashel was closed in 1990 and demolished in 1992.

The legal battle began in December 1999 and Budden estimates he’s been in court 30 or 40 times to see the case through. The victims, who were boys at the time of the abuse, are now in their 70s and 80s.

After a winding series of court cases, which included the North American branch of the Christian Brothers order filing for bankruptcy, the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal determined in July that the city’s Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation was liable for the abuse.

In September, the archdiocese of St. John’s applied to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal that decision, saying the ruling sets a precedent with “profound implications” for its future operations.

As is custom, the court did not provide a reason for its decision to deny the request.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021.

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