The Quebec government announced Thursday it will pay another $26 million in compensation to the Duplessis Orphans, who were physically and mentally abused in Roman Catholic institutions more than 60 years ago.

The orphans suffered sexual and physical abuse, including electroshock and lobotomies, in Quebec orphanages run by the Catholic Church in the 1940s and '50s.

'They're paying me to protect the religious communities.… It's important for me, that the church, the priests, that they recognize they were responsible for the sexual abuse, and the aggression.' -Martin Lécuyer, a Duplessis Orphan who objects to a waiver that protects the Catholic Church

In many cases, orphans were forced to work and kept out of school, even though school attendance was mandatory in the province.

The orphans came to call themselves after Maurice Duplessis, who was Quebec's premier at the time.

Between 1,000 and 1,700 orphans are eligible for the new compensation package, which works out to about $15,000 per person.

In order to receive the money, they will have to sign a waiver declaring they won't file any legal action against the Catholic Church.

The requirement has shocked many adult orphans, who harbour deep resentment toward the church for the pain and suffering they endured as children.

Some, like Martin Lécuyer, decided on the spot to turn down the money on principle. "It's an abomination. It's an exploitation of the [orphans]."

Lécuyer grew up at the Orphelinat Notre-Dame de la Merci d'Huberdeau, in the Laurentians, where he was abandoned as a two-month-old infant. He says he suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a resident priest as often as three times a week for several years, until he was a teenager.

Financial compensation won't wipe out those memories, and with the conditions tied to money, Lécuyer says he would be letting the church off easy, he told the CBC.

"They're paying me to protect the religious communities.… It's important for me, that the church, the priests, that they recognize they were responsible for the sexual abuse, and the aggression. It's not [for] the government to set that peace," Lécuyer said.

"It's an insult, and it's the biggest proof that the government is an accomplice of the church."

Lécuyer is urging other orphans to take the money if they need it. "At their age, they're 60, 70, 80 years old, they don't have many years to [live]."

Church never apologized

The church has never apologized to the orphans, despite repeated requests.

About 1,100 other orphans received $25 million in provincial compensation in 2001, in a settlement for having been wrongfully committed to mental-health institutions.

Duplessis Orphans who lived at the following nine institutions will be eligible for the latestcompensation package:

  • L'Orphelinat Notre-Dame de la Merci d'Huberdeau.
  • L'Institut Saint-Jean-Baptiste du Lac Sergent.
  • L'Orphelinat Saint-Joseph de Chambly.
  • L'Hospice du Sacré-Coeur de Sherbrooke.
  • L'Orphelinat agricole Saint-Joseph de Waterville.
  • Le Centre Notre-Dame de la Santé (Institut Val-du-Lac de Rock-Forest).
  • L'Institut Monseigneur Guay de Lauzon.
  • Le Mont Saint-Aubert d'Orsainville.
  • L'Institut Doréa de Franklin Centre.
With files from the Canadian Press