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Letter: Mount Cashel decision sets dangerous precedent

["The Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's. The building was torn down in 1992."]
The now-demolished Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John's

As a committed Catholic I was disappointed to read of Justice Faour’s decision on Tuesday March 20 to disallow a claim against the R.C. Episcopal Corporation by some survivors of child-abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage. Justice Faour concluded that these survivors, who had reported abuses to a priest, would not have been believed in the context of the 1950s. Nobody would have understood exactly what the boys were trying to report, as such bestial crimes were beyond the imagination of most people, and certainly beyond that of an elderly priest — thus goes the reasoning, as I understand it.

Related story:

Mount Cashel victims lose in N.L. Supreme Court civil trial

Setting aside the probability that every priest, even in the 1950s, would have studied moral theology as part of his seminary training, I can’t resist the notion that Justice Faour’s opinion opens the door to many more “historical context” escape-clauses. Abuses suffered by Indigenous Canadians, by African-Canadians, and by girls and women everywhere could be similarly discounted, and blamed on a different historical and local understanding of civil and human rights.

A dangerous precedent, and one that should unsettle people of good will everywhere.

The Episcopal Corporation is, after all, a corporation, and corporations around the world have often demonstrated that they have no heart, but make their corporate decisions according to the balance-sheet.

I would hate to discover that the Episcopal Corporation could do no better than its secular counterparts.

I happen to be a member of a Roman Catholic organization that concerns itself with social justice, and we try to empathize with dispossessed and marginalized people in the ‘developing world.’

(I still call it the Third World, because much of it is not developing at all.)

Using Justice Faour’s judgement as our guide, we could find excuses for European colonization of African and Asian and South American countries.

We could excuse the genocide carried out by Christopher Columbus and his troops, or the dispossession of Indigenous cultures in the U.S.A.

Even in the context of today, I can’t help wishing that my Church could find the courage to “empty itself” to help these victims. It really should not take years and years of courtroom argument to realize that those boys were, and are today, what Jesus of Nazareth called “the least of my little ones.”

One of the main problems with owning property, it seems to me, is that we become desperate to defend it, whether legally or by force.

Jesus was wary of property-ownership because He saw how it eroded the sense of solidarity and the “preferential option for the poor.”

But I’m just a common parishioner, and my opinions are not informed by deep study of theology or ecclesiology.

All I can do is pray for the victims, and trust in God to guide the mind of the Church.

Ed Healy


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