Christian Brothers acknowledge blame

Barb Sweet
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Apology letter mailed to Mount Cashel victims

For a New York man who lived in the Mount Cashel orphanage in the late 1950s and early ’60s, even a small misstep like wearing a T-shirt to mass got him a vicious beating.

“I remember I was so scared. … I didn’t have a white shirt one Sunday morning so I put a tie on over a T-shirt. I will never forget the beating I took for that. … (The brothers) got great pleasure out of that,” said the St. John’s born man who was physically and sexually abused at the facility.

“Every kind of abuse you can imagine. That was their agenda. They were told to abuse us. They must have been because I can’t figure out any other reason why all them did it.

“Those were the formative years of your life and you lived in fear all the time. Nobody can imagine what that was like.”

The man — who entered the orphanage at age seven with three brothers and left at 15 when his widowed mother relocated to New York — said he used to feel his experience was unforgivable.

But as a member of a victims’ committee formed during bankruptcy proceedings, he met a couple of months ago with two current leaders of the Christian Brothers’ order in New jersey.

“What came out of it surprised me. I found myself forgiving them,” he said of the officials. “I don’t know why.”

Still, the man said, an apology that comes decades after the abuse that victims suffered cannot erase the damage done and the financial settlements are nowhere near enough.

“I found myself in a situation where their apology was genuine enough, but I don’t think you can really apologize for that. I don’t think there is a way to do that,” he said.

As The Telegram reported online Friday, victims of sexual and physical abuse at the former Mount Cashel orphanage are among those receiving a long-owed apology from the Christian Brothers that takes direct and unequivocal blame.

“Words cannot capture the depth of our regret and sorry for the abuse inflicted on children entrusted to our care by members of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers in the United States and Canada,” reads the apology obtained by The Telegram.

“We understand that in place of safety, security and well-being, many children were instead subjected to physical and/or sexual abuse at the hands of some of our Brothers.

“We are genuinely sorry and offer a sincere apology to all those who have been directly or indirectly caused to suffer as a result of the deplorable actions of these Brothers. Similarly, we are gravely disappointed in the actions taken by some in past leadership in failing to respond appropriately to allegations against our Brothers. Children should have always been treated as our highest priority, and it is with heavy hearts that we express shame and revulsion for the abuse and ill-treatment suffered by those who, as children in our care, should have been protected.”

The one-page letter was signed by the New Jersey-based order’s province leader Brother Hugh O’Neill and deputy province leader Brother Kevin Griffith.

The letter has gone out to some 420 victims in Canada and the U.S. who were involved in the recently concluded winding up of assets of the The Christian Brothers Institute and The Christian Brothers of Ireland, Inc.

Some may not have gotten the letter yet as they are still arriving in the mail.

The Mount Cashel victims include claimants from residents of the orphanage as late as the early 1980s and as early as the ’40s.

Not evasive

“The wording of this is not an evasive apology,” said Mount Pearl lawyer Geoff Budden, who represents about 90 clients.

Past apologies may have acknowledged regret for  what victims feel they suffered, but this one acknowledges the Catholic lay order was complicit, he said.

Budden said the reaction of clients has been mixed with some expressing anger and others taking solace in the acknowledgment and the promise to ensure it never happens again. Though it doesn’t run orphanages, members of the order still teach.

“There are guys here who are not really prepared to forgive. They are still very angry. No apology is going to make them feel very different,” Budden said.

“Others have taken this as an acknowledgment by the Brothers.”

A settlement was reached last year for individual victims of abuse that include former residents of the Mount Cashel orphanage and the amounts determined earlier this year. The settlement affected about 160 local victims of sexual abuse, mostly residents of the former Mount Cashel orphanage in

St. John’s. About 10 per cent of the victims were other school children.

The settlement includes a

$16.5-million cash payment from Catholic lay order the Irish Christian Brothers and one of its insurers and affects more than 420 men and women in the U.S. and Canada who say they were molested as children by members of the Christian Brothers.

The boys orphanage was closed in 1990 and the building was demolished in 1992.

On Friday, a U.S. group representing victims denounced the apology.

“Church abuse apologies are virtually meaningless. Whether long or short, clear or vague, prompt or delayed, they don’t protect a single child, expose a single predator or uncover a single coverup,” said David Clohessy of St. Louis, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

The comments came in a news release issued after The Telegram report went online.

“Apologies like this are smart public relations and legal defence manoeuvres. And it’s tragic that they often come only after Catholic institutions are sued and Catholic officials are forced to act,” Clohessy said.

“Virtually every step the Christian Brothers have taken about abuse have been forced on them by wounded victims, aggressive journalists, determined police, skilled prosecutors or outraged donors and Catholics.”

Clohessy called on the Catholic lay order to permanently post on its websites the names, photos, whereabouts and work histories of “every proven, admitted and credibly accused child-molesting cleric.”

For the New York man’s family, the experience at Mount Cashel splintered him and his three brothers, who had been placed in the orphanage after their father died and their mother could not provide for the family. The church ruled society at the time, he said, and the boys would not have been listened to if they had spoken up about abuse.

“The damage just came into our lives and for the rest of our lives

didn’t stop,” he said. “It was not only my family, but God only knows how many others. It was an era of absolute darkness.”

He said serving on the committee of representative victims of

the Irish Christian Brothers that approv­ed terms and conditions of the reorganization plan in the Chapter 11 cases has been a godsend in his own ability to talk about what happened to him and to put the past behind him.

“I saw other people being happy and I didn’t know what that was about,” said the man, who started his own construction business be­cause he found it tough to work for others and accept authority.

“I have worked very hard to make sense of things. I had to put my life together every day.”

Organizations: Christian Brothers Institute, The Telegram, Ireland Survivors Network

Geographic location: Mount Cashel, United States, New York Canada Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • LaVerne
    March 09, 2014 - 10:23

    While I am not Catholic my heart hurts for all those children who suffered at the hands of the Christian Brothers. What God were they serving? I know the effects of the abuse the children suffered will never totally go away but there are good people in the world and hopefully no more of this kind of abuse will be allowed in our society. And yes, I firmly believe that while those who abused and beat the children, they will answer some day.

  • Glenn Stockley
    March 09, 2014 - 09:40

    Now they are being called a "catholic lay order"...nice try barbie....they are part of an evil criminal enterprise know as the roman catholic church......

  • Steve
    March 09, 2014 - 04:35

    If a company had the child abuse record that the Catholic Church has, would they be allowed to continue? They would be shut down immediately.

  • Just me
    March 08, 2014 - 11:18

    I often wonder how and why people still attend "church"... I know all priests aren't bad but it would kind of turn one from giving any of their hard earned $$ to these organizations... Those who hurt children will face the consequences one day... I have to believe that... One of these days organized religions are going to be a thing of the past.

  • darrell
    March 08, 2014 - 09:33

    May every Priest who abused those little boys please rot in hell.

  • Pamela Hartman
    March 08, 2014 - 08:58

    How ironic the letter of apology is dated February 14th, St Valentine's Day. This has come too late as my brother is dead. I do recall my father showing up one day at Mount Cashel , confronting a Brother because he gave my brother a black eye for stealing a candy bar from a local shop because he was hungry. Nobody pressed charges against my Dad, I wonder why?

    • seanoairborne
      March 08, 2014 - 15:36

      You're dad had balls!Back in those days if a kid went home or told a relative what was happening they would not believe it!They had also been indoctrinated in the same system years before and were taught that a man of the cloth couldn't possibly do such disgusting things.I was taught by a lot of those child molesting Christian Brothers,who also went to Mt.Cashel later,while attending Holy Cross and they beat the living hell out of me and some of the other boys, who weren't from the right side of the tracks, every chance they got because they were a bunch of GD sadists!We felt we had to take whatever they deigned to be appropriate punishment because our relatives sided with them.Our parents thought the clergy were beyond reproach!I had some of the same Brothers that taught my dad.But all of them were good teachers.It wasn't until later that we stared getting the sick ones.I still hate the bastards today.I remember when I got back from Vietnam I wanted to go back to Newfoundland,walk up to the monastry of the school, and beat the living hell out of the first one of those sick creeps that opened the door.It was a dream of mine for many years.That dream has never abated over time.I still hate em!!Now many of them are dead and others are too damn old to do anything to.I wish I had a rewind button!As for this settlement,it should have been far greater then what it turned out to be.They should have been made to sell every Catholic church asset in the province to compensate those poor guys who were diddled and beat upon for years and have to live with those tragic memories for the rest of their lives!I think it's too little and too late!

    • Beat up too
      March 09, 2014 - 11:21

      I hear you loud and clear seanoairborne. I too am a product of the brothers of Holy Cross and believe me there were days I was terrified. One brother in particular would show up in the morning with the outline of his "strap" visible under the bellyband they wore around their long frocks. Before the day was out every bloody one of us would be pounded by him for whatever reason he could dream up. Physically it hurt real bad but looking back I can be thankful I 'spose there wasn't any sexual abuse. The subsequent cover-ups are disgusting.

    • seanoairborne
      March 10, 2014 - 15:19

      Beat Up Too!!...I may know you my friend.I went to Holy Cross from 1955 to 1963.I had two brothers that went there also.Doug O'Neill, my older brother and Wayne O'Neill,my younger brother.I'm Patrick O'Neill,Do we know each other?It would be nice to speak to a fellow Holy Cross student whom I knew?Cheers!!