Bitter legacy: How Mount Cashel survivors are living with the aftermath

Barb
Barb Sweet
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This series ran in July 2012 and is nominated for a National Newspaper Award

Picking up the pieces
Mount Cashel 'boys' still coping with the trauma police say victims were 'thrown to the wolves'

First in a three-part series 

For some, it might seem a small thing - being declined funding to work out at his gym of choice to combat anxiety, but for Billy Earle, it's another in a lifetime of letdowns.

Earle wrote Premier Kathy Dunderdale in May about his gym dilemma, along with being turned down for counselling by the Victim Services Program because he'd run into trouble with the law.

It's a symptom of the treatment Mount Cashel survivors receive from a system that should be aiding their recovery, he said.

The decision not to provide counselling for Earle has since been reversed. But he was told in a letter from Justice Minister Felix Collins in June that he could not have a membership for a downtown gym just a couple of minutes from his home.

Instead Earle was referred to the Y, which has a financial assistance program, but he doesn't want to run into clients he deals with through his job as a private process server and investigator.

Fought to get counselling

"The Victims Services Program has no plans to provide financial support to individuals for membership to physical fitness facilities," Collins wrote in the letter.

"You don't hear us every day bawling out, screaming and looking for stuff," Earle said of Mount Cashel victims.

Earle said bureaucracy has once again let down the survivors, and if he had not fought the loophole that prevented him from accessing counselling, he would have continued on a downward spiral, as some of the other guys have.

He was arrested in January this year after consuming four bottles of wine on top of his prescription anti-depressants, and was charged with uttering threats and resisting arrest after an argument at his girlfriend's house. He has since received a conditional discharge and probation.

He's also been dealing for years with two sons who both have juvenile records. And he remains distrustful of the police, fearing vindictiveness for speaking out as an orphanage abuse victim. 

"I just wanted to feel numb because I was hearing noises of (Mount Cashel victim) Johnny Williams screaming in my ears of when he was a little boy getting beaten. I was hearing it for a long time while trying to numb it up by drinking, on top of dealing with the issues of my kids in and out of the system," Earle said of his January breakdown.

°°°

It was fall 1975 when Earle and another Mount Cashel resident were brought to social services alleging physical and sexual abuse at the orphanage.

A couple of months later, volunteer Chesley Riche reported the beating of Earle's brother, Shane, to authorities. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary opened an investigation headed by Det. Robert Hillier, who got statements from two dozen boys.

But Hillier's findings were covered up, including the confessions he obtained from two Christian Brothers.

The scandal broke when Shane Earle went public in The Sunday Express in 1989 and the subsequent Hughes Inquiry detailed the horror of the abuse and the failure of the archdiocese, the government and police authorities to protect the boys.

Some 15 former Christian Brothers were eventually prosecuted.

Roughly 200 victims have either settled or are pursuing civil claims that trace back to the late 1930s.

The provincial government announced its own $11-million, out-of-court settlement for about 40 victims in the late 1990s. 

The final deadline for claims against Christian Brothers entities is Aug. 1.

There are also some outstanding claims against the archdiocese. And there are claims against the provincial government.

A court decision barred the province from responsibility for those who suffered abuse in earlier decades, prior to 1970.

°°°

Hillier is still haunted by the memory of being a young police officer rounding up runaway Mount Cashel boys and bringing them back to the orphanage, in the years before he took on that infamous 1975 investigation.

"There were so many boys escaping from Mount Cashel and it was a battle. We were out all night long looking for them," he said in a rare interview this week.

"You couldn't handcuff them, but you did everything. You beat them up - not intentionally - but dragging them about trying to get them back in the home. They screamed until they got to the door. When they got to the door they were just scared. And we just threw them into the lions' den."

Hillier - the man who was told he "wasn't very loyal to the Queen" because of his resolve to investigate the case in the mid-1970s - has zero trust in clergy, and doubts to this day the RNC would be able to resist a government-ordered coverup.

"Politics and government, they have control over the police and otherwise. They will deny it today. Don't deny it to me - I don't believe it," said Hillier, who left the force almost 25 years ago.

Child abusers still have a belief they can get away with their crimes, he said.

And he said the Mount Cashel boys deserve any kind of support available in the form of counselling or therapeutic programs to deal with the legacy.

"They were left alone by everybody. Some of them were good boys, but didn't have a chance to become good citizens in society, what they should have been," Hillier said. 

"I have nothing bad to say about any of those boys. It's shameful we didn't help them."

But Hillier, almost a decade on the force by then, knew the writing was on the wall in 1975 when he began the file.

"How in the hell am I going to investigate this? How am I even going to bring it to the forefront?" he remembers thinking.

"Clergy ruled the government ... basically right from the get-go there was a coverup. And I could feel it." 

The then chief of police ordered him to alter his report to remove references to sex abuse.

Hillier said he would not change the intent.

"I challenged it inside," he said, patting the left side of his chest. 

"I didn't do anything wrong. I remember being parked on Confederation parkway and I was trying to figure out how to get at those two guys I wanted to interview after having been refused the right to do that. I went ahead and got an admission."

Had charges been prosecuted in 1975, Hillier believes many boys could have been saved a lifetime of anguish.

He said for those who have gone on with outwardly normal lives, he doubts the legacy ever escapes them.

"My opinion is very simple. I don't care what profession they went in, I doubt very much they are at peace with this. If they are, they are extraordinary and I don't believe it," said Hillier, who is stopped whenever he travels by former Mount Cashel residents and family members.

°°°

Reached in Oklahoma, former resident Leo Rice said he is constantly reminded of the past.

"It ain't worth shit. You never forget crap," he said of life after the abuse, before cutting off the conversation.

°°°

Fred Horne, who was one of two RCMP officers assigned to the Hughes Inquiry, still wonders why police and child welfare authorities were not dealt with harshly for their lack of accountability.

"My concern is what happened to those kids. They were all thrown to the wolves, you might say, for the sake of (people) not doing the right thing," said Horne, who is retired.

"Kids who are molested that young will relive that forever. ... The whole thing is sad."

°°°

Mark Wall, also now retired from the RNC, held the Mount Cashel file for 20 years after the scandal broke in the 1980s, interviewing 1,000 former orphange residents.

Many had escaped abuse. Others slammed the door in his face. Some pursued criminal and civil cases. And some just wanted to tell their stories to him, he said, recalling one man in Ontario who raised horses and rode around his property with Wall, recounting what happened. And that was the end of it for the man.

Always in the back of his mind was what had happened to Hillier, but Wall said his investigations were not interfered with.

"Nobody attempted it. It was just too public," he said.

°°°

Billy Earle remembers Brother Doug Kenny grabbing the boys by the hands when they were dropped at the police station in 1975.

"He said, 'You got to know where you live when you come out of there,'" Earle recalled.

At age 11, Earle gave a statement, saying that Brother Allan Ralph had come to his dormitory room pretty well every night for that past year, instructed him to turn in and then put his hands inside his pyjamas to fondle him.

Earle also stated Kenny kissed him in the swimming pool.

Earle said life would have been so different for the boys had they been listened to then.

"I don't know what childhood was," he said.

In the lead-up to the Hughes Inquiry, he said he dodged investigators at first and his anxiety and panic attacks have continued since his testimony and into the present.

Earle said some of his compensation was paid out in a divorce settlement. He has a monthly stipend and a chunk put in an annuity and he works as a private process server to pay his bills.

He had stopped counselling in 2004 when his longtime counsellor died.

After his breakdown in January, Earle went to Victim Services and was turned down. Earle appealed to The Telegram and said his counselling was reinstated after columnist Russell Wangersky wrote about it.

Now Earle sees a counsellor who he said is a former Christian Brother and is trying to overcome his anxiety and lessen his reliance on prescription medication by working out. He's paying for the gym membership himself.

Earle said he didn't realize the full impact of post-traumatic stress on his life, especially after his trusted counsellor died. Then he started taking account of where some of the other Mount Cashel boys of his era are.

"I look back now today where some of the guys are who I knocked around with, and it's frightening," Earle said.

"I guess I am one of the lucky ones to have supports around me."

In Saturday's Telegram, read about brothers John and Jerome Williams, whose lives were lost in the emotional wreckage of the Mount Cashel scandal, as well as the story of a man who did well in life, but who remains scarred from the abuse he suffered in the late 1940s and into the '50s.

On Monday, a victim never heard before speaks out, and another man laments his alcohol-fuelled 57-page criminal record.

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•••

 

The Telegram (St. John's)

Front, Saturday, July 21, 2012, p. A1

Bitter legacy: How Mount Cashel survivors are living with the aftermath

Jerome and Johnny: twin tragedies

A shared unhappy past wrecked the lives of two brothers in different ways

Barb Sweet

Second in a three-part series

Twin brothers Johnny and Jerome Williams would still be alive today, living good, happy lives if they had never set eyes on Mount Cashel orphanage, their sister says.

"You shameless, bloody people, go to hell," said Selina Williams, her voice rising with emotion as she spoke of the Christian Brothers who abused boys at Mount Cashel in St. John's, and the church officials and authorities who covered up the scandal in an attempt to protect the Brothers' reputations and assets.

"I am so thankful for the boys who were able to move on and have reasonably normal lives. They deserve it. ... I wish Johnny and Jerome could have had that."

Johnny died in 1998 in Placentia.

"After the inquiry, Johnny was able to move on in some small ways with his life, but unfortunately he had issues with ulcers and pancreatitis and died the way he had lived, in pain and alone at 39," said Williams, who lives in B.C.

"He had so few needs. He never asked for anything and expected nothing, but always gave anything he had, whether it was material or emotional."

Jerome committed suicide in Red Deer, Alta., a few years ago.

"Jerome disconnected from everyone after Johnny died," Williams said.

"He never talked about it, not about Mount Cashel or his twin brother. ... I lost a shining star in my life, but I lost it a long time ago, not three years ago."

Despite their shared date of birth, the two were unalike in looks, personality or their reaction to the abuse at Mount Cashel Orphanage.

Johnny was small, struggled academically, but was outspoken, Williams said.

Jerome was taller, studious and athletic, especially at basketball and soccer.

Johnny was among the boys who tried to expose the abuse in the 1970s. He testified for four days at the Hughes Inquiry in 1989 and spoke of it freely in the years afterwards.

Jerome, who was interviewed by investigators, appears to have taken many of his secrets to the grave and would only speak of the orphanage in reference to sports achievements or the bond he had with fellow residents.

The twins were born in September 1960 in Placentia. When her parents separated later in the decade, ending a tumultuous marriage, Williams said the boys were placed in Mount Cashel and she and an older sister in Belvedere Orphanage, which was run by the Sisters of Mercy. A younger sister was placed with relatives.

To Williams, who was around five years old at the time, the couple of outings the girls made to Mount Cashel to visit their brothers left a far different impression than the horror that was really going on - physical and sexual abuse.

"I remember thinking as a little girl that Mount Cashel was so much more fun than Belvedere," Williams said, recalling the swimming pool and activities available to the boys. After Belvedere closed, she and her sister were put in foster care.

At age 15 in 1975, Johnny Williams was among the boys to give a statement to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary about the physical and sexual abuse he'd received from Brother Edward English. On a previous occasion, he'd shown severe bruising to his cousin and she brought him to the welfare office on Harvey Road.

But the abuse of the Mount Cashel boys was covered up until the scandal broke in 1989.

Another victim, Billy Earle, can still hear bare-chested Johnny screaming as he was beaten for dawdling at the sinks in the morning.

Johnny would stand up to the abusive Brothers, calling them "jiggers."

The twins' cousin reported in a 1976 police statement that she saw Jerome in the hallway one day with Brother Doug Kenny. Jerome was crying, but refused to tell her why, and Kenny said it was none of her business and drove the boy to his bed, according to the statement.

But he would never have talked about any abuse, his sister said, adding he may have been ashamed and felt guilty for the abuse Johnny received.

"As children (taken into care), you do what you can to get the best life for yourself. ... It's a war," she said.

"(Jerome) never talked about it, but there's no way he lived there without receiving some abuse. Certain kids are susceptible, and Johnny would have been one of those. ... He was a little guy with a big mouth, and I don't say that in a bad way. He had no idea how small he was when he would cheek off at people. He'd stand up for himself."

Williams moved around to various foster homes after Belvedere closed and managed to get out of care at 15. By age 18, she had left for Fort McMurray, moving on to Red Deer and then out to B.C.

According to Williams, when Johnny left the orphanage he told his father about what had happened, but he wasn't taken seriously.

"He drank quite a lot. He was a very angry kid then," Williams recalls, adding he moved through a series of make-work jobs before eventually living on a small monthly stipend from the abuse compensation settled in the 1990s.

She believes Johnny found some relief in finally testifying at the Hughes Inquiry.

"I also knew it would be a hard road," she said.

"I wasn't with him, but it couldn't have been easy. He had waited a long time for somebody to listen ... even though you can't punish these people enough for what they have done. There is no appropriate justice. It would never be enough. You never shake that."

Williams talked on the phone with him when she learned about his stomach problems, but he said he was "just fine."

"He knew he wasn't supposed to drink or eat certain foods. He'd go for a while and not drink and then just go on a bender," she said.

She found out after he died that he'd obtained his high school credentials, and imagines it must have been a proud time for him.

He hadn't put much of a dent in his compensation and left it to Jerome, Williams said.

When she and her younger sister approached Jerome - who was by then living in Red Deer - about Johnny's funeral, he refused to go home. Then suddenly he showed up in Placentia two weeks later and stayed for about a year. When he announced he was heading back to Red Deer, Williams told him to check in with her from the road. He never did.

Jerome had stayed at Mount Cashel while he attended classes at Memorial University before deciding to take a year off to work. Williams connected him with a friend who was heading out to Fort McMurray and he never got back to his nearly completed studies.

Jerome operated his own taxi there and seemed happy, reading his beloved daily newspapers - the Financial Post, the Globe and the local paper - between fares. But as the city filled up with more and more Newfoundlanders, he moved on to Red Deer, where Williams was living at the time.

He claimed he wanted to avoid friends who would coax him to go to bars. But Williams said he really wanted to go where no one knew him and could not connect him to Mount Cashel.

"All he wanted to do was forget this ever happened," she said.

Williams had left her first marriage when she was pregnant with her second child and Jerome moved in with them, connecting instantly with the children. He would have made a fabulous father, his sister said.

"I was absolutely astonished at his parenting skills," she said.

He dated, but the one serious relationship he had, of several months' duration, ended with him being jilted.

Jerome then moved to his own apartment until his sudden departure for Placentia.

By the time he got back to Alberta, he had changed drastically, and pretty much severed the family ties he once had.

Near the end, Jerome - always a hard worker - got fired from a job in the oil patch and an eviction notice was slipped under his door. When the landlord acted on the notice weeks later, it was still on the floor.

"There was nothing in his apartment with his name on it, not even a piece of mail," Williams said.

There was a $700 set of unopened Le Creuset cookware, a box of exercise videos and untouched supplements and other items ordered off the shopping channel.

His car was found abandoned at a shopping mall.

And when Jerome's remains were found, he had long, stringy hair and was wearing seven layers of clothes.

"That just absolutely would never have been him," Williams said. "He was always clean-cut, fresh-shaven."

Williams, who has no emotional ties now to Newfoundland, still plans to bring Jerome's ashes home to Johnny's resting place in Placentia.

"I hope that's what he wants. Nobody knows," she said.

She imagines if things had played out differently in their childhood, Johnny, with his gift of gab, would be in Newfoundland working, perhaps in marketing, with a social circle and family of his own.

Kind, thoughtful Jerome would be the head of a household, with no limits to his ability to soar in some profession.

"He just was a very authentic individual. You never wondered where he was coming from, he was so genuine and so authentic," she said.

"Everybody has a version of greatness in them. And there are some people who just shine. He was one of them."

St. John's lawyer David Day, who was the commission's co-counsel, said his eyes moistened but he smiled when The Telegram asked him about Johnny Williams this week.

He recalled that Johnny had a gregarious personality and liked to wear cowboy boots and hats.

"He could be encountered waiting for a meeting with me singing a country and western ballad," Day recalled of Johnny, who was so eager to help the commission.

He struck up a lifelong friendship with inquiry investigator Weldon (Buck) Orser, who has since died, Day said.

Before Johnny testified, Orser took him downtown and outfitted him in a suit of clothes out of his own pocket. 

But there were many victims who were not forthcoming because they were not ready, Day said.

"They were limited in what they told me, and many years later, I learned from reacquainting with them there was a great deal they could have said, but chose not to."

 

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•••

 

Provincial, Monday, July 23, 2012, p. A3

 

Bitter legacy: How Mount Cashel survivors are living with the aftermath

Special Report

 

Trying to numb the pain

'I never seen hell until I came to Mount Cashel'

 

Barb Sweet

 

Last in a three-part series

Derrick Stanley said he was so disturbed by memories brought forward by the film "The Boys of St. Vincent," that he put his head through a TV set.

The National Film Board film was inspired by the Mount Cashel Orphanage sex abuse scandal in St. John's.

"My head was all bandaged up and my face was like a monster," he said of the damage.

Stanley had not spoken out before about the abuse he claims he suffered there in the 1970s.

Since he was interviewed by The Telegram for this story, he has been put in touch with a lawyer, as an Aug. 1 deadline looms for civil claims against the Christian Brothers organization and its entities.

In the 1980s, Stanley said he was told an old perjury charge made him ineligible to give evidence against his alleged abuser, Brother David Burton, a dorm supervisor.

And so he has kept it pretty much to himself ever since.

"I didn't want to bring up my past - everything in the past. I didn't bother coming forward," he said over coffee.

"But I didn't tell my parents why I ran away and all this. I ran away a few times and the police always brings me back. ... Last time I ran away I went to the boys' home and stayed there until I was 16."

Stanley said as a boy he had surgery to repair a hole in his heart and was never treated as a normal child.

He said his siblings were split up and he wound up in the orphanage.

Stanley alleges that Brother Joseph Burke left him to drown in the swimming pool there.

"I didn't know how to swim. He put me on his back and brought me down the deep end and left me there," he said, mimicking the sound "bloop, bloop, bloop" and pointing downwards to illustrate his struggle.

"I went down the fourth time and there was a guy who was taking care of the pool cleaning up around. ... He seen what went on. He jumped in the pool and got me out and saved my life."

Criminal indecent assault charges against Burke were quashed and he got an absolute discharge for a physical assault charge.

Stanley said Burton - who was convicted in the past, but also made a confession that was not prosecuted - touched his privates many times.

"They picked out the weakest that can't fight back," he said of the Christian Brothers who were abusive.

Many years ago, Stanley said he robbed a female taxi driver and cut her face. He did time in Springhill, N.S., but has since been pardoned.

"I was on the heavy drugs - acid, marijuana, black hash, black oil. I didn't do cocaine. I popped pills, trying to snort them up me nose," he said of his past. I took me glasses (and) used it for brass knuckles and I cut her."

But he said he was sorry for what he did, expressed it in court and his record is now clean.

Stanley said he received some counselling after being parolled to a halfway house and that helped him straighten up.

But the 47-year-old has worked a succession of jobs and still can't keep one.

"I tried to commit suicide and everything when I saw it on TV," he said of the "Boys of St. Vincent."

"I tried to hang myself in the closet. I tried to cut my wrists, because the pain hurt and I didn't want anyone else to know."

Stanley said he didn't get far in school and has poor literacy skills.

"Give me a newspaper and I can't tell you what happened," he said.

But Stanley also said there was a kind man at Mount Cashel - Brother T.I. Murphy, who treated him well, offering candy and milk with no hidden agenda.

Another survivor Billy Earle echoed those sentiments, saying Murphy was the best, along with other good brothers, like Butsy Moore, Johnny Shaw and Harry French.

"With all the publicity the bad side of Mount Cashel generated over the years, I feel it is easy to forget the good that was done there," Earle said.

"Mount Cashel was more than a small group of bad brothers who tarnished the reputation of a good and valuable organization. It was a 100-year-old institution that helped thousands of children and their families and produced many good men."

 

°°°

 

Gerard Boland's criminal record is 57 pages long.

"It's as thick as a Downhomer," he said in a telephone interview from the Bishop's Falls correctional facility where he is incarcerated until next spring - or this fall if he can get parole.

He figures he's spent much of the last 30 years in jail and 99 per cent of the convictions, he said, are the result of alcohol-fuelled anger. There are assaults, breaches of conditions, impaired driving, causing disturbances, uttering threats and mischief among the pages that have defined his life.

Boland said he was sexually abused by Brother Edward English in the 1970s.

English was convicted in the 1990s of assault-related offences against former residents of the orphanage.

After Boland's mother got sick, he and his brothers were placed in Mount Cashel.

"If I could honestly say, the truth of it is Mount Cashel, it f--king ruined my life," he said, breaking down.

"A lot of boys went through abuse in Mount Cashel and went on with their lives. God love them. How they done it? Good family support or something.

"Jesus Christ, I thought we had it hard in Lamaline. I mean I never seen hell until I came to Mount Cashel orphanage. That's for f--king sure."

Boland said his father was a heavy drinker.

"When I seen my father being the way he was - hitting us and pushing my mother around, I said to myself, 'There's no f--king way in the world I'm going to be like him,'" he said.

He took his first drink at around age 18.

"It made me feel better about myself. At the time I was so f--kin' hurt," Boland said.

"I said to myself, well, nobody is going to hurt me again. ... I drunk a dozen beer, I felt eight foot tall and 10 foot wide."

Besides being sexually abused, he said he was grabbed by the throat and punched in the face numerous times at the orphanage.

He would spend hours sitting in the window staring out towards the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet across the street, hoping his parents would come and get him.

He took off and hitchhiked to St. Lawrence and stayed with a relative after a chance meeting, and then was reunited with his mother. He said he never revealed the abuse to her.

Boland, then in his late teens, said he was walking down Water Street in St. John's one day, drunk. He saw the Mount Cashel raffle - a longtime charity event - and said English was in the back, spinning the prize wheel.

He asked English if he knew him.

"He said, 'You look like one of the Boland brothers.' And that's when I struck him and said, 'I am a bit bigger now than 11 or 12.'"

Boland claims the police came and challenged English as to whether he was pressing charges, and an officer looked at Boland as he was leaving and said, "I guess you are a bit bigger now, eh b'y?"

Boland said his marriage failed and he laments the effect his life of going back and forth to jail has had on his kids.

He said he wants to do the right thing.

"My goal this time when I get out, I got to focus on my children. I'm 49 years old, and believe you me, do I want to be here? No indeed, I don't want to be," he said, adding he was so ashamed at the beginning of this stint, he avoided phone calls with his kids.

"The sorrowful thing about it is I love my children."

This past spring he said he was on Water Street in St. John's and should have walked the other way from his ex-girlfriend, with whom he had a toxic relationship. Instead, he hooked up with her, wound up in an altercation and then went back to prison yet again.

In prison, he attends AA meetings, but can't open up about the abuse.

"I done that anger-management program about 50 times over the years," he said.

His compensation for the abuse is pretty much gone, he said - used to pay bills, as well as street loans he'd taken out.

"I guess what hurts me over the years, if we had to remain on the Burin Peninsula, how would my life be today? Would it be the way it is now?" he said.

"It's time to stop this life. ... My record is getting to the point right now where I have to clean my act up. If I keeps on this way, they are just going to put me away for the rest of my life.

"For what? The sake of a bottle of beer."

 

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Organizations: Victims Services, Hughes Inquiry, Christian Brothers The Telegram RCMP Jerome's Financial Post Le Creuset Hughes Commission Christian Brothers Institute National Film Board

Geographic location: Mount Cashel, St. John's, Red Deer Placentia Oklahoma Fort McMurray Ontario Newfoundland B.C. Alberta Avalon Peninsula New York Logy Bay

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  • Phil Thomas
    July 29, 2013 - 13:37

    It will take a while before thy have dentists from Frort McMurray to come back. I hope you guys get back soon.