Nfld. & Labrador

Former Mount Cashel residents seek $8M in damages for sexual, physical abuse

Mount Cashel was a "repetitive nightmare" that never really goes away, say lawyers seeking $8 million in damages for four lead plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit.

Judge not expected to deliver ruling until sometime in 2017

The Mount Cashel Orphanage was operated by the Christian Brothers, and closed in 1990. (CBC)

Mount Cashel was a "repetitive nightmare" that never really goes away, say lawyers seeking $8 million in damages for four lead plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit.

Roman Catholic church officials are accused of doing nothing to stop the often sadistic sexual and physical attacks by Christian Brothers who preyed on vulnerable boys at the once-iconic orphanage in St. John's, N.L.

As closing arguments wound down Thursday, lawyer Allison Conway described one plaintiff's ordeal at the hands of a brother who beat him in the shower using a "refined strap."

"We have a known pedophile ordering a young boy to strip naked and bend over while he beat him across the buttocks," Conway said in provincial Supreme Court.

Knew, but did nothing

Lawyers for the plaintiffs would not speculate on how damages could be extrapolated to about 80 other men who may be affected by the ruling in this case.

They have argued during a 31-day trial that the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. John's is liable for incidents that happened between the 1940s and 1960s.

Children at Mount Cashel, seen in archival pictures. John Doe was at Mount Cashel from 1948-55. (CBC)

They have cited correspondence and other documents to build a case before Judge Alphonsus Faour that church officials oversaw Mount Cashel, and knew or ought to have known about the abuse but did nothing.

The Archdiocese of St. John's says it sympathizes with those who suffered, but was never responsible for the orphanage or school.

Its lawyers and a witness who reviewed historical documents say the Irish Christian Brothers were independent of any direction from the archdiocese.

'These men were wronged'

Toronto lawyer Mark Frederick, representing the episcopal corporation, called it a "trial of victims."

"What happened to these men was a terrible thing," he told the judge Thursday.

"These men were wronged. They were harmed," by a minority of Christian Brothers who abused their positions, Frederick said.

But the archdiocese is also a victim, he argued: It has suffered not only the resulting moral fallout of the Mount Cashel tragedy but also a lawsuit that he called "an over-reaching claim without historical context."

About more than money

Frederick said the plaintiffs' lawyers have crafted arguments without testimony from government, church, child welfare and Mount Cashel officials who are long dead. "There isn't anybody around."

He suggested the claim is more about money.

"It is the last man standing, so to speak," Frederick said of the archdiocese.

Closing arguments are set to wrap up Friday, but stormy winter weather has caused delays. (CBC)

"We're the last pocket left to pick."

Plaintiffs in the case are from an earlier era who told their stories when Mount Cashel abuse emerged as a public scandal with criminal convictions and a public inquiry starting in 1989.

Over 156 days, the inquiry heard how justice and social welfare officials for years downplayed or hushed up complaints.

The statement of claim filed for the civil lawsuit back in 1999 originally named the Christian Brothers of Ireland Inc. as co-defendants.

'Everything was taken from you'

But the North American branch filed for bankruptcy after a barrage of court cases and settlements. Their assets were ultimately liquidated and distributed — including a $16.5 million settlement in 2013 shared among about 420 claimants across North America, around 150 of them in Newfoundland.

One of the lead plaintiffs, who can't be named under a court order, has faithfully attended the trial. He said compensation is less important for him than holding church officials responsible.

Mount Cashel, operated by the Christian Brothers, closed in 1990. (CBC)

"Everything was taken from you," he said outside court of his time at Mount Cashel.

The trial has heard the four plaintiffs describe demons that have haunted them ever since. They include alcoholism, depression, self-hatred and loss of faith.

Compensation sought by the plaintiffs' lawyers outline general and punitive damages, loss of income, and future care for counselling and other needs.

Closing arguments resume Friday and were scheduled to wrap up this week but have been delayed by storm closures.

The judge is not expected to deliver a ruling until sometime next year.