More than two dozen church properties are now on the market in Cape Breton and northeastern Nova Scotia to raise money for a multi-million dollar settlement with victims of sexual abuse by priests.
Rev. Paul Abbass, a spokesman for the diocese of Antigonish, said 30 properties — from ball fields to old parish halls and unoccupied priests' houses — are on the market so far.
One of the most visible properties on sale is the Diocesan Pastoral Centre in downtown Sydney, which houses administrative and pastoral offices for the Catholic Diocese of Antigonish.
"It was our intention that given the suffering and the struggles of the parishes, that we felt that one of the first properties that should be put out there is a diocesan property," Abbass told CBC News.
"We do appreciate that there is sacrifice involved here, just as there will be sacrifice for our staff in the pastoral centre … so that was the first property, in fact, that we put out on the market."
The diocese needs to raise $18 million to cover a $15-million settlement reached last August with victims of sexual abuse by priests dating back to 1950. Another $3 million is needed for claims by six other people.
The settlement with abuse victims was negotiated by Raymond Lahey, the former bishop of the diocese of Antigonish. He has since been charged with possessing child pornography.
The landmark deal was hailed as the first time the Roman Catholic Church apologized and set up a compensation package for people who claimed they were sexually abused by priests, without fighting the charges in court.
400 properties to be sold off
The 30 properties currently up for sale are the first of about 400 properties to be sold off.
Parishes in Mulgrave and Georgeville in Antigonish county, Bras d'Or and Lower River Inhabitants in Cape Breton, and the town of Pictou have been notified which of their properties will be sold.
Abbass said parishioners are feeling a wide range of emotions.
"From acceptance, to those who really think that we need to do this to close this chapter in our lives, to others who are really, really angry and still struggling with it," he said.
Even when properties haven't been used in years, Abbass said, parishioners are still sad to see them go.
In the community of Christmas Island, the parish council is opening up the priest's house this weekend so people can have a last look before the property is sold.
The house has been empty for a decade.
"We don't know what's going to happen down the road," said Hughie MacKinnon, chair of the pastoral council.
"Someone purchases it, they could knock it down or move it or who knows what they could do. It'll probably be the last chance that a lot of people will have to actually go in and go through and have a look and imagine how grand it was in its heyday."
Abbass said more properties will go on the market in the coming weeks, and the sale of the first properties should bring in about $200,000.
He said interest is brisk and that there have already been a number of offers.