Mount Cashel survivor reflects on traumatic path to victory against Catholic church

Now in his 80s, John Doe is happy to see his legal battles come to an end, but is still left wondering what could have been.

John Doe No. 26 explains his reaction to the Supreme Court of Canada decision

John Doe No. 26 says the Supreme Court of Canada decision is a happy one for him, but did cause him to reflect on a life spent fighting back traumatic childhood memories, and fighting the church in court. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

After two decades fighting in courtrooms, and seven decades of fighting off triggers, one man in St. John's is relieved to see his lifelong David vs. Goliath battle come to an end.

The man, identified as John Doe No. 26 in court documents, sat down across from me on Thursday afternoon, just hours after learning the Catholic Church would be held responsible for the abuse he suffered at Mount Cashel in the 1950s.

The memories are old, but they can flood back fresh without a moment's notice. That makes days like this tough to handle, even though it's a day to celebrate.

John Doe No. 26 was one of four men directly involved in this lawsuit for 21 years. About 60 more will now bring legal action against the church, with a roadmap to victory paved by the four fellows who came before them.

Here's an excerpt of our conversation.

First of all, what was your reaction to the news today?

A feeling of lightness. Incredulity, I guess, to a degree. Something is gone. Something heavy that was weighing you down, and it's gone. This was it. You've come to the end of a journey. This is it. You've come to the end of a journey and you see the green fields, the sun is rising, placid waters. That kind of thing, you know?

I felt great mostly, I think, for [lawyer] Geoff Budden and his associates. They were with us over 20 years and it was always us. It was never, ever them. He showed such humanity, an interest in us, care and empathy.

It was a great feeling.

Did the news this morning make you reflect on what a long journey it's been?

I came in, I sat down on the couch over there and I began to think. And I went right back to the orphanage days. 

I looked at our trip along the road of life since the orphanage. I asked myself questions of how life would have been different if I did not have to take that road. How many scars, bumps, injuries would I not have experienced if I did not have to go that road?

And I look now from the vantage point of a life just about over. I'm in my 80s. I look with — I can't say regret — but longing for the days that could have been. At the same time, really happy about the days that I did have, especially the ones from the time I met my wife onward. They were super and I think that compensated for what I lost, what I went through on that road.

An old school building is pictured in a black-and-white-photo.
The Mount Cashel Orphanage opened in the late 1800s, but was rocked by scandal in 1989, when it was revealed children had been abused for decades. (CBC)

I thought also about my brothers [who were also at the orphanage]. One who has passed away. Two who are in long-term care and one is just about ready to go. They were not as fortunate as I have been. They had a lot of obstacles along the route, and did not fare as well as I hoped they would. But they managed to get through, and I thought about what kind of lives would they have had, had the obstacles of this not been in the way? What framed them should not have been the things that framed them.

I thought of them and I thought about all the support I've had. My friends, the people I work with. The phone was going all morning. "Congratulations," and "I'm so happy for you." That's amazing, the support you get. If you're down, they're there to hold you up.

Do you have a sense of finality from this? That this is the end of it?

Yes, I do. I do in that way.


I try to deal with the word "closure," but what does closure mean? It doesn't mean to forget, because you'll never forget. A finality, maybe. A time to put more energy towards other things. Put some things, as they used to say, in a locked box.

Maybe it is. In a way I said this is it. There is no more now. I've come to the end of the road dealing with this. It will still be there. The spectres will still pop up every now and then. I know that. You have no control over your dreams. But I know now it's over. There's nothing else to be done. Thanks to the people who were representing us. They made our life a lot happier, better, less cluttered, less confused.

Memories and things, well, as I said we cannot prevent them from popping up every now and then. It could be a sound. It could be a word. It could be a place. Anything could lock something in. But this is finished. A fight with the religious, the church and that, is over.

What does it mean to you to know that the church is responsible?

I wouldn't think [it matters] so much that to me they are responsible, because I always knew that they were.

But what does it mean to them? Are they looking at it monetarily? Or are they, as they tell their parishioners, soul searching and seeing that yes, culpability is all around them and they'll take responsibility for that. Say it and mean it, and do something about it.

Is there anything else you'd like to speak about?

I find it very saddening that so many people had been left along the highway of life.

The life that they had was not one that people would like to have. They're no longer with us. They had a very, very difficult existence through alcohol and broken homes and lack of respect for themselves.

It's unfortunate that they are not here to be able to be financially compensated and to use that to get back on the true road of life. It's too late for them and that is very unfortunate and very sad.

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Ryan Cooke is a multiplatform journalist with CBC News in St. John's. His work often takes a deeper look at social issues and the human impact of public policy. Originally from rural Newfoundland, he attended the University of Prince Edward Island and worked for newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada before joining CBC in 2016. He can be reached at