Nfld. & Labrador

Sexual abuse 'always known to be evil,' lawyer tells Mount Cashel lawsuit judge

Closing arguments began Wednesday in a civil lawsuit led by former Mount Cashel residents who claim church officials ignored reports of abuse.

Warning: Story contains graphic description

Lawyers make final arguments in a Mount Cashel lawsuit before the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court. (Sue Bailey/The Canadian Press)

Closing arguments began Wednesday in a civil lawsuit led by former Mount Cashel residents who claim church officials ignored reports of horrific abuse at the orphanage in Newfoundland.

Lawyers for about 60 claimants are in provincial Supreme Court, and say the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John's is liable for incidents dating back to the 1940s.

Lawyer Geoff Budden said church officials knew or ought to have known what was happening.

He took aim at defence arguments, including that attitudes toward physical punishment of children have changed over time.

"Some things are eternally regarded," he told Judge Alphonsus Faour. "The sexual abuse of children was always known to be inherently wrong and evil."

'They'd come to your bed at night'

Representative plaintiffs can't be named under a court order, but have alleged sexual attacks and beatings by the Christian Brothers of Ireland who ran Mount Cashel.

One of those claimants sat in court Wednesday, hands clasped, listening intently to the proceedings.  Now in his 70s, he described in a previous interview continuous beatings at the once-iconic institution in St. John's.

"They'd come to your bed at night," he said of the Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic order. "They'd masturbate you and lie on top of you, rub you and kiss you and all of that. I used to try and say a prayer and, you know, it didn't work."

About 20 more men represented by other firms could be affected by a decision expected sometime next year.

Mount Cashel, built as an orphanage for Roman Catholic boys in 1875, was torn down in 1990, after a sex abuse scandal. (CBC)

The civil lawsuit seeks damages still to be outlined in court. It claims the church corporation was the ultimate authority overseeing the orphanage and was therefore responsible for the actions of Christian Brothers.

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

Budden cited various correspondence in court Wednesday from the 1950s that he said supports arguments local church officials oversaw Mount Cashel.

For example, a provincial minister in 1954 wrote a letter to local orphanage heads regarding funding. Budden notes that the minister wrote to the local archbishop about Mount Cashel, and not a senior Christian Brother at the time.

Such exchanges "fatally undermine" counter-arguments by lawyers for the episcopal corporation that church officials were merely involved in fundraising or other matters from a distance, Budden said.

Earlier compensation 'inadequate'

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

It held hearings over 156 days on how justice and social welfare officials for years downplayed or hushed up Mount Cashel complaints.

The statement of claim filed on behalf of Budden's clients back in 1999 originally named the Christian Brothers of Ireland Inc. as co-defendants.

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

Some of his clients in the ongoing lawsuit were paid from those funds, Budden has confirmed outside court. But he has said it was not adequate compensation for abuses that have scarred their lives ever since.

Mount Cashel was closed in 1990 and torn down two years later.

Closing arguments in the civil lawsuit are expected to wrap up this week after a 30-day trial.