Mount Cashel’s livid scars

Pam Frampton pframpton@thetelegram.com
Published on July 28, 2012

“(A) neglected child means a child who is found living with vicious or disreputable persons.”

Ironically, from a definition of “a child in need of protection,” which governed who might be sent to live at Mount Cashel

I shop at the Sobeys where Mount Cashel used to be, in the east end of St. John’s. For years, first when it opened, I would refer to it as “the Mount Cashel Sobeys” — a term that I’m sure made folks at the grocery chain cringe.

But gradually, the name “Sobeys Howley Estates” began to stick, and that was the extent of how the ugly Mount Cashel Orphanage saga affected my life.

Lucky me.

Tear down the orphanage, replace it with a supermarket plaza and a housing development. End of story.

There’s a small memorial park as a tribute to the victims of the physical and sexual abuse travesty, but it goes largely unused and unnoticed.

I don’t imagine there are too many victims who want to return to hang out on the property.

Some people who weren’t directly affected by Mount Cashel say they’re tired of hearing the horror stories.

They want the whole sordid mess to vanish into the past; some probably didn’t even approve of the Hughes Inquiry, viewing it with distaste as some sort of public airing of dirty laundry.

I say shine as much light on the story as we can. Talk about it and keep talking about it.

It is the not talking about things, the propensity for secrecy and coverups that allows such horrors to occur. Nasty things can happen in the shadows, and behind the walls of an institution.

Telegram reporter Barb Sweet shone a bright light into dark corners last week with her gritty and gripping three-part series examining how the victims of those horrible abuses have fared.

As several of the Mount Cashel boys — now men — so articulately explained, the scars from sexual and physical abuse can last a lifetime.

“I tried to hang myself in the closet. I tried to cut my wrists, because the pain hurt,” Derrick Stanley told The Telegram.

While many readers of the series were sympathetic, some commenters on our website were saying enough already.

“Give it a rest,” wrote one reader. “Let the people who were involved in Mount Cashel, both the survivors of abuse and the thousands that lived there without anything wrong happening, move on. Stop opening the wounds.”

Someone even more cynical wrote of the victims, “When money is involved they come out of the woodwork.”

That anyone could think those wounds have all healed or that, even if they aren’t, money can make it all better, is appalling.

Mount Cashel left many victims in its shameful wake. There were the boys themselves, of course, who lived with the fear and dread and pain of abuse with few adults they could trust to turn to. They lived with the terror of hearing someone on whom they depended for their physical and spiritual well-being  stealthily approaching their bed in the still of night. They must have — wrongly — felt shame for the sexual acts being forced upon them, as well as embarrassment and confusion.

They must have felt abandoned by the world, and not just a parent or parents, in some cases.

But the whole community, the whole province was a victim of Mount Cashel, as well. Some people grew to mistrust the Catholic Church or every church, while others were stunned to learn that the abuse had been known about and kept quiet for years in a shocking conspiracy of church, state and media.

Anyone who thinks those wounds have healed should think again.

Years ago, as an extra on the set of “The Boys of St. Vincent,” I was in a scene where an angry mob was gathered at the bottom of the steps of the court house in St. John’s, yelling at the priest fleeing from the crowd.

We were supposed to be acting, but the anger and outrage expressed by some people that day were palpable.

“You betrayed us!” a woman I knew to be a Catholic yelled next to me, raw emotion in her voice.

The crowd was so agitated, I was actually afraid that someone would be trampled or that the actor playing the priest would be set upon.

There weren’t too many takes required.

What happened at Mount Cashel happened because of collusion.

Some adults in authority looked out for their interests — caring more for the reputations of the church and the government than for the safety of orphaned children.

In a society where secrecy rules, wrongdoing can flourish.

And the government wonders why people object when our access to information is restricted and constrained?

Retired detective Robert Hillier, who tried to bring the scandal to light, only to have his reports covered up, doesn’t believe the system has changed much.

I sincerely think it has.

But it was ultimately the courage of the Mount Cashel boys that finally saw the ugly truth dragged into the light, and some members of the clergy exposed as the pedophiles and sadists they were.

Still, other Mount Cashels continue to play out elsewhere.

As the Associated Press reported from Philadelphia on Tuesday, a Roman Catholic monsignor there was sentenced to three to six years in prison for what the judge called enabling “monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children.”

Mount Cashel survivors should be commended for telling and retelling their stories and we should care enough to listen and pay attention.

Those deep wounds will never heal if we close our eyes and ears to the truth and criticize those who would tell it.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton