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Former N.L. priest John Corrigan convicted in sexual abuse scandal dead at 86

Judge in sentencing said Corrigan took children’s innocence

John Corrigan, a Roman Catholic priest once convicted in connection with the sexual abuse scandal that took place in the late 1980s died Thursday.

He was 86.
In December 1988, Corrigan pleaded guilty to five charges of gross indecency and two charges of sexual assault on young boys who ranged in ages from 10 to 13. He received a five-year prison sentence.

Eight other charges originally filed against Corrigan were dropped.

Most of the offences occurred during the nine years Corrigan was a parish priest in Pouch Cove. Others offences were said to have happened while he served at St. John Bosco Roman Catholic Church in Shea Heights.

According to reports at the time of the court case, victims testified that Corrigan would invite them over for cookies and beer and often showed them homosexual videos and magazines. That led to oral and anal sex two or three times a week for the next two years.

In sentencing Corrigan, Judge Gordon Seabright said, “In his own life, the defendant began to drink heavily and the evidence shows that he was drinking at least a 40-ounce bottle of liquor daily … The evidence presented by the defence on the sentencing hearing is to the effect that Father Corrigan is a homosexual and had a real problem with liquor.

“He held a position of trust in that parents trusted him and the children would certainly not have been questioned (if) they were leaving their own homes to go to the priest’s house. In the case of the boys, they were provided with a hang out, free food and the comforts of this hangout, which was free from question. The only requirement in addition to their sexual favours was their silence.”

Seabright went on to say, “Gross indecency and sexual assault are probably the worst crimes against children that can be committed. They take the innocent and cause damage that … may never be fully discovered …. When we add that these crimes were committed by a person in authority, then the defendant offends not only against the child but against society as a whole.”

Corrigan also served at St. Michael’s, Bell Island (1967-1969); Holy Trinity in Ferryland with missions at Aquaforte and Calvert (1971-1973) and Ferryland-Cape Broyle (1974-1976).

Corrigan’s guilty plea came only two months after another Roman Catholic priest, Father James Hickey, also of St. John’s, was sentenced to five years in prison for sexually assaulting altar boys over 18 years. Hickey pleaded guilty to 20 offences and was sent to Dorchester penitentiary in New Brunswick to serve his sentence. He passed away in 1992.

Corrigan’s and Hickey’s convictions resulted in an investigation into sexual abuse at Mount Cashel Boys’ Orphanage to be reopened in February 1989.

A month later, former Mount Cashel resident Shane Earle went public with his story, triggering huge public reaction.

The provincial government took action, establishing a royal commission of inquiry, chaired by retired Ontario Supreme court Judge Samuel Hughes, to investigate how the justice system had handled complaints at Mount Cashel. The 156-day hearing saw more than 200 witnesses testify.

According to reports, Hughes concluded that that neither the RNC nor the justice department handled the 1975 and 1976 Mount Cashel files normally. It was found that government had acted improperly by giving Mount Cashel privileged status as a foster home.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's also commissioned an inquiry in 1989 into the sexual abuse of boys by members of the clergy and Christian Brothers.

It was chaired by Lt-Gov. Gordon Winter, an Anglican. The commission strongly criticized the Archdiocesan administration for its handling of child abuse allegations, writing that it adopted a "minimal response policy,” which often amounted to no more than sending the offenders out of the province.

"Church officials aligned themselves with the accused;" the commission wrote. "Their response to victims was thus inappropriate and un-Christian and this compounded the victims' initial sense of betrayal by the Church.”

Archbishop Alphonsus Penney resigned as a result of the commission's findings. He passed away earlier this month at age 93.

As a result of the sex scandals over the decades, the A Roman Catholic diocese in Newfoundland has dished out millions of dollars in settlements and recently filed for bankruptcy protection. Many of the claims are still being before the courts.

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