COMMENT: A time of judgment for Roman Catholic churches and parishioners in Newfoundland and Labrador

Glen Whiffen has been a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador for 30 years. E-mail: [email protected]

By Glen Whiffen

I know a lot of people in Newfoundland and Labrador who call themselves Roman Catholics. Many of them are good friends, some are former partners, some are work colleagues, some are teammates, and some are acquaintances.

Great people. Kind, true.

I have also, intermittently, as a journalist for 30 years, covered the cases of physical and sexual abuse of Christian brothers and priests that have destroyed the lives of young boys – from the Hughes Inquiry to the actual trials Mount Cashel Christian brothers and priests in the early 1990s.

I also met, spoke to and interviewed a number of victims – mostly men, and mostly still young men at the time, with their hearts and lives torn apart. I watched them crumble in front of me.


Glen Whiffen: “Some of the victims – now elderly men – fear they won’t live long enough to see compensation.” SaltWire Network File Photo

Some I still talk to from time to time. They always struggle. A few have found themselves in court over the years, and I have covered their cases. Some struggle with mental health and addiction issues. Some have gone to great lengths to leave everything behind and have a normal life – a family and even children.

Some have succeeded, others have failed miserably. Some have committed suicide.

These men – who as children were left orphaned by one tragic circumstance or another, with no choice or option – were placed in the care of Christian Brothers, carrying with them the deep trauma of losing the safety of their family life.


Perhaps Catholics should demand radical changes, a total reorganization and improvement of the leadership structure, so that the church can resume the work it was meant to do.


So many broken lives should have been put on the path to being repaired by those charged with doing God’s work.

We all know about the terrible crimes that took place inside the walls of the Mount Cashel Orphanage. I shudder thinking about the things I heard in court.

Instead of receiving love, support, and education, these children became unstoppable prey to opportunistic pedophiles who lurked in plain sight within the ranks of the secular order and priesthood.

After the crimes were exposed by some of the good boys themselves, there was a series of church-influenced cover-up attempts by the police, government officials and some media – this is a any other sad story.


Some of the survivors of abuse at Mount Cashel await the start of court proceedings in St. John's, 2019. SaltWire Network File Photo - SaltWire Network File Photo
Some of the survivors of abuse at Mount Cashel await the start of court proceedings in St. John’s, 2019. SaltWire Network file photo

Waiting

Then began the long years of excruciating frustration and of waiting for justice and compensation.

I have followed the great legal battles that the Roman Catholic Church has fought, not just here, but in other jurisdictions around the world, in court, defending pedophiles, forcing victims to relive the horrors, delaying compensation under the pretext of fighting it with insurance companies, governments or claiming that secular orders were independent.

The latest court battle in this province for compensation concerns the Mount Cashel victims of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, which lasted more than 20 years and is still unfolding now that the church has been forced to pay. Some of the victims, now elderly men, fear they will not live long enough to receive compensation. Some are already dead. Of old age.

Telegram reporter Barb Sweet has done an amazing job covering this story, and her articles are available on the SaltWire Network website.



good people

And now back to the good Catholics; people who strive to do good in the world, wanting to practice and pass on the traditions of their faith to their own children. But will their churches still be there to practice their faith?

In the St. John’s area, properties owned by the Catholic Church are up for sale, including the beautiful historic Basilica of St. John the Baptist, opened in 1855.

“Nothing was withheld,” an attorney representing RC Episcopal Corp said recently. (An agreement has been reached to exclude the cemeteries and is awaiting court approval.)

Catholics are told that if they want a place to practice their faith, they must raise funds, take out a mortgage and buy out the individual parish properties – betting that the faith is strong enough, surely, not to let the basilica be transformed. in condominiums.


The Roman Catholic Basilica of St. John the Baptist on Military Road in St. John's.  — Joe Gibbons/SaltWire Network - SaltWire Network File Photo
The Roman Catholic Basilica of St. John the Baptist on Military Road in St. John’s. —Joe Gibbons/SaltWire Network

In recent days, I have read social media posts and letters to the editor from long-time faithful Catholics who are upset and disillusioned by what they describe as the coldness of the Archdiocesan leadership and the Roman Catholic Church in general.

Imagine what has been spent over the decades defending Christian Brethren and priests, and there are still big legal bills to pay as the RC Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s is progressing through the bankruptcy and insolvency process.

Always passing the blame

Updates to parishioners in the Archdiocese always seem to highlight the fact that it was the courts that determined “the Archdiocese was vicariously liable for the abuse allegations.”

In other words, the courts are forcing it – blame them.

Another update for worshipers referenced a recent parish bulletin, which read, “Consider the story of the Bible and how it relates to us. Jesus was isolated and alone in the desert for 40 days and nights. He fasted. He was challenged by the negative forces of the world and he overcame them, remaining faithful to the word of God and denying the material. How transformative was this experience for him? Can we be transformed by our struggles?

“Our fights”? And the victims?

“The negative forces of the world”? What about the crimes of the church’s own representatives?


“Consider the story of the Bible and how it relates to us. Jesus was isolated and alone in the desert for 40 days and nights. He fasted. He was challenged by the negative forces of the world and he overcame them, remaining faithful to the word of God and denying the material. How transformative was this experience for him? Can we be transformed by our struggles?
— Parish Bulletin


After all the investigations, court rulings and promises to help victims heal, what has changed in the attitude and approach of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church?

I don’t see it, but I’m not a member. There may be some who do.

The Telegram posted a photo when journalist Barb Sweet was covering the case at the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court of Appeals in March 2019.

We were unable to identify the victims, but the photo shows their hands – no longer those of young boys, but of elderly men – victims who, once again, went to court in the hope that justice be given a life later.

A higher power

But maybe there is a higher court, with faster action. The Catholic Church preaches from one.

In the Bible, Matthew 18:6 is attributed to Jesus: “But whoever offends one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for him that a millstone hang around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.”


The main offices of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.  -Joseph Gibbons
The main offices of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s. – Joe Gibbons/SaltWire Network

I would say that most good Catholics disagree with the way the Roman Catholic Church has handled this horrible situation over the years. When it turns out that government officials are acting badly or going against the will of the people, they are eliminated. When business or organizational leaders fail to show real leadership, they are replaced.

Perhaps Catholics should demand radical changes, a total reorganization and improvement of the leadership structure, so that the church can resume the work it was meant to do.

Or maybe the good Catholic people are tired, embittered, loose from the weight of it all.

Times are changing, with many religious congregations seemingly dwindling rapidly. Perhaps the days of physical church buildings are coming to an end.

Faith doesn’t depend on buildings, after all.

And perhaps the realization that most of the money from the sale of local Catholic properties will be used to pay long overdue compensation claims for victims can be a comfort and a closure for good Catholics. .

In my mind, I always see this photo from Telegram. Victims sitting and waiting, the judicial process spiraling out of their control, just like their young lives were all those years ago.

They are also weary, hearts hardened from the constant recoil, empty-handed despite having had to endure the abuse and trauma for so many years.

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