A man who suffered sexual abuse as a child at the Mount Cashel Orphanage is giving a lukewarm reception to an apology letter from the Christian Brothers in North America.

J.J. Byrne lived at the orphanage with three of his brothers from 1956 to 1962. During that time, he was beaten and sexually assaulted.

The letter is the first time Christian Brothers have unequivocally apologized for the sex scandals that's rocked the Roman Catholic order.

"It gave me a great deal of comfort that they were finally admitting it and their own negligence," Byrne said.

Letter of apology

The letter, dated Feb. 14, was sent from Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North America, based in New Jersey. It was signed by Brother Hugh O'Neill, the organization's leader, and Brother Kevin Griffith, the deputy leader.

It follows a $16.5-million financial settlement involving 422 men across North America. More than a third of those were at Mount Cashel and several schools in St. John's.

"We are genuinely sorry and offer a sincere apology to all those who have been directly or indirectly caused to suffer as a result of deplorable actions of these Brothers," the letter states.

"Similarly, we are gravely disappointed in the actions taken by some in past leadership in failing to respond appropriately to allegations against our Brothers. Children should have always been treated as our highest priority, and it is with heavy hearts that we express shame and revulsion for the abuse and ill-treatment suffered by those who, as children in our care, should have been protected.

"There is no excuse or explaining away what happened to these children or in the breakdown in addressing the abuse when it became known. As Brothers, we lament our failures in this regard."

Some satisfaction

Byrne said he had no idea what was inside the envelope when it landed in his mailbox a few days ago.

"What gave me some satisfaction was the fact that finally, the Christian Brothers recognize the fact — especially those in leading positions within the order — that there was a gross failure on their part to report the abuse that had been reported to them by various kids... from the '50s, right until Mount Cashel closed in approximately 1990," Byrne said.

"For the first time, they actually admitted the fact that they were terribly negligent in not reporting it, not dealing with it seriously, and admitting the great damage they did to the victims at Mount Cashel Orphanage during that time frame."

'In most cases, [other victims] basically say they'll never be reconciled.' - J.J. Byrne

Byrne said while the Christian Brothers had finally admitted their wrongdoing, he said it bothers him that it took so long for them to write the letter. He said he'd been asking for an apology in the original talks he had with the Christian Brothers in Canada and the United States.

"That was my original intention, to get them to face up to the fact that they had failed in their obligation to protect the children under their care," he said.

Byrne said life after the orphanage was difficult for many of the victims.

"When we left Mount Cashel, quite a few left with no real educational foundation, and a lot of the victims got into trouble... [because] they weren't provided with the tools to deal with life and of course the tragedy of being physically, sexually, emotionally abused. Life was just in complete turmoil," he said.

Byrne said while the admission is welcomed, he's not sure if he'll ever be able to forgive.

"That's still going to take a period of time, you know, if it comes to that stage," he said.

"All of the victims I've been dealing with, fellow victims throughout the years, they all basically have that train of thought. In most cases, they basically say they'll never be reconciled."