Mount Cashel Orphanage
The Mount Cashel Orphanage was an orphanage that was operated by the Congregation of Christian Brothers in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The facility is remembered for a scandal and protracted court cases regarding abuse of children. The facility opened in 1898; it was closed in 1990.
In 1898, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St. John’s Michael Francis Howley donated land for an orphanage on the northeastern edge of the Dominion’s capital, approximately 1 km (0.62 mi) north of Quidi Vidi Lake. The orphanage was named the Mount Cashel Boys Home after the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary, where it is said that Saint Patrick baptized the pagan king Óengus mac Nad Froích in 450 AD. The facility was located on the eastern side of the intersection of Mount Cashel Road and Torbay Road. The Mount Cashel Orphanage, as with numerous other orphanages in Newfoundland, received a bequest from the estate of James M. Ryan in 1917.
In the 1950s, following Confederation with Canada in 1949, the provincial government began to place wards of the state at the Mount Cashel Orphanage.
For the last 40 years of its operation, the facility was operated by the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada (CBIC). The CBIC announced on November 27, 1989 that the orphanage would be closing.
Canada’s largest sexual abuse scandal was disclosed in 1989, resulting in the closure of the facility in 1990 after the last resident was moved to an alternate facility. The property was seized and the site razed and sold for real-estate development in the mid-1990s as part of a court settlement ordering financial compensation to the victims.
Today a Sobeys supermarket at 10 Elizabeth Avenue and a small residential development called Howley Estates sit on the land once occupied by the orphanage.
Sexual and physical abuse scandal
A pattern of physical and sexual abuse of more than 300 orphanage residents, perpetrated by staff members, specifically members of the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada (CBIC), was uncovered during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Multiple criminal investigations, a provincial Royal Commission of Inquiry (the Hughes Inquiry) and an Archdiocese of St. John’s inquiry (the Winter Commission) resulted in criminal convictions and millions of dollars in court-imposed financial settlements. Compensation was provided by the Government of Newfoundland for orphanage residents who were wards of the state and several properties owned by the CBIC in Newfoundland and Labrador and other provinces were seized and liquidated.
In December 1975, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) began an investigation into physical and sexual abuse allegations at the Mount Cashel Orphanage. This resulted in five staff who were members of the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada being implicated by twenty residents. The investigation was curtailed by the Chief of the RNC on instruction from the Department of Justice, despite two members of the CBIC admitting sexual wrongdoing. No further residents were interviewed and the two staff members were placed in treatment centres outside the province and then transferred to other CBIC-operated institutions in Canada.
In 1982 the RNC began a second investigation into physical and sexual abuse allegations at the Mount Cashel Orphanage. Thirteen separate reports were written (nine by the Department of Social Services and four by the RNC). One staff member who was a member of the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada was charged with sexual offences and convicted, receiving a sentence of four months in jail and three years probation.
1989 media revelations
A caller to VOCM’s radio call-in program Open Line on February 13, 1989 mentioned suspicion of a cover-up by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador into sexual and physical abuse at the orphanage. One of those listening to Open Line that day was a justice of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador who followed up on the issue with the provincial government’s Associate Deputy Attorney-General. On February 14, 1989 the Crown prosecutor’s file on the physical and sexual abuse allegations at the Mount Cashel Orphanage was officially re-opened and the RNC was instructed to complete its 1975 investigation and determine why charges were never laid.
On February 19, 1989 the independent weekly newspaper The Sunday Express, under the direction of publisher Michael Harris, began to publish allegations of sexual and physical abuse perpetrated by staff at the Mount Cashel Orphanage against residents, dating back to the 1950s. These editions of The Sunday Express created a sensation across Newfoundland and Labrador and quickly led to calls for a public inquiry; within weeks of Michael Harris’s interviews with Shane Earle, the government appointed Justice Samuel Hughes to hold a public inquiry that was broadcast live on television.
1989–1996 criminal investigation
The RNC investigation that was reactivated in February 1989 eventually resulted in the arrest of 14 staff members (nine members of the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada, five lay people) on 88 counts of physical and sexual abuse. Charges were laid against four members of the CBIC in 1992 relating to the aborted 1975 investigation, followed by further charges in 1996 alleging sexual and physical abuse committed by six staff during the 1950s and 1960s. A further four staff members were eventually charged, although only nine members of the CBIC were convicted.
1989 Royal Commission
The growing controversy during Easter Week in late March 1989 as a result of The Sunday Express publication regarding the alleged cover-up by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the RNC, and the Archdiocese of St. John’s led interim Premier Tom Rideout to announce the appointment on March 31, 1989 of a Royal Commission led by a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Ontario, Samuel Hughes QC, to investigate the obstruction of justice.
The Commission, usually known as the Hughes Commission, started the Hughes Inquiry on June 1, 1989 and heard from dozens of witnesses over two years, making its report public in April 1992. It found that the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada staff members who had been the target of the RNC investigation in 1975 should have been charged. The commission also found that the Department of Justice had interfered with the police investigation. Commissioner Hughes recommended that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador establish a compensation fund for the abuse victims, although no size limit was discussed, nor recommendations on providing counselling services to victims.
1989 civil lawsuit
One of the victims of sexual and physical abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage, Shane Earle, filed a civil lawsuit in April 1989, naming the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Archdiocese of St. John’s as defendants. The action was amended to claim $18 million for 9 former residents of the orphanage.
1989 Archdiocesan Commission of Enquiry
The Winter Commission was appointed in 1989 by Bishop Penney and released its report during the following year. Its conclusion led to the resignation of Bishop Penney.
Settlements and continuing litigation
On April 5, 1992, the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada formally apologized to the victims of physical and sexual abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage.
In response to the Hughes Inquiry, and facing dozens of civil lawsuits, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador acknowledged its responsibility in 1997 as a result of having sent wards of the state to the Mount Cashel Orphanage and paid a settlement of $11.25 million to approximately 40 former residents who were victims of sexual and physical abuse. The provincial government then began a process of seeking to reclaim this money from the assets of the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada.
The CBIC announced the closure of the Mount Cashel Orphanage on November 27, 1989; it was permanently closed the following year after the last resident was relocated to another facility. The court-ordered compensation to victims saw the CBIC demolish the orphanage and sell the land to property developers for $8 million, which was paid to victims. CBIC properties across Canada became the target of court-ordered liquidation.
In December 2000 The StarPhoenix reported that leaders of the Christian Brothers at the Vatican conspired to transfer ownership of the order’s assets out of Canada to prevent court-ordered liquidation to pay compensation to sexual and physical abuse victims. It was also alleged that the Archdiocese of Vancouver conspired to shield Vancouver College and St. Thomas More Collegiate. On July 27, 2002 an out-of-court settlement of $19 million was paid by the two schools to the liquidating company Deloitte and Touche, appointed to oversee the liquidation of the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada. A news release from Deloitte and Touche stated that the settlement was “reasonable” despite the schools having a real estate value of $40 million at the time. A lawyer for Mount Cashel victims was also quoted in opposition to any of the $19 million settlement being used to pay the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, arguing that it should be used for compensating the victims.
From 1996 to 2004 approximately $27 million in compensation was paid to roughly 100 victims of physical and sexual abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada.
2009 case involving Bishop Lahey
Raymond Lahey, Bishop of Antigonish, announced on August 7, 2009 that the Diocese of Antigonish had reached a $15 million settlement for a class action lawsuit filed by victims of physical and sexual abuse by several diocesan priests in eastern Nova Scotia dating to the 1950s.
On October 2, 2009 it was revealed by the CBC that Lahey, while a minister at a suburban St. John’s parish, had been observed in the mid-1980s to have possessed child pornography material.
This accusation was made in 1989 by a then-Mount Cashel resident to the Hughes Commission; the resident had been visiting Lahey’s house at the time when the material was noticed. The RNC never acted upon the revelation and did not begin an investigation.
Lahey was found to have child pornography on his computer when returning from abroad to Canada in September 2009. He resigned as bishop, was suspended from priestly and sacramental duties, and pleaded guilty in 2011 to criminal charges. He was given a prison sentence (already served as pre-trial custody), and was defrocked by the Vatican the following year.
2020 Court of Appeal ruling
In July 2020, the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador unanimously reversed a 2018 decision of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador and ruled that the Archdiocese of Saint John’s was liable for the sexual abuse committed at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in the 1950s and 1960s. The Supreme Court of Canada denied the Church leave to appeal.
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