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.
“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.”