[TRIGGER WARNING: child abuse, sexual assault] Class-action suit alleges Catholic Church transferred abusers across the country to ‘protect’ them

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VANCOUVER — On February 8, a proposed class-action suit was filed in the British Columbia Supreme Court, alleging that a Catholic order transferred six known abusers from Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland to Vancouver College and St. Thomas More Collegiate, both in the Vancouver area.

The lawsuit stated that between 1976 and 1983, an order called the Christian Brothers authorized the cross-province move, the Canadian Press reported.

“The conduct of the defendants […] is egregious and so extreme in nature as to be deserving of condemnation and punishment,” the lawsuit stated. It added that “Compensatory damages alone are inadequate” for the redress of abuse survivors.

 This is the second class-action lawsuit against local Catholic Church officials in the past year, according to the Vancouver Sun.

 According to the lawsuit, its class members had suffered severe aftershocks of the abuse, citing pain and suffering; psychological injuries; addiction; spiritual trauma; and inability to have healthy sexual development, the Canadian Press reported.

A plaintiff told the Canadian Press that he attended Vancouver College from 1980 to 1985 for grade eight to 12, years during which Edward English sexually abused him. If a judge certifies the class action suit, the anonymous plaintiff would represent the students of both Vancouver College and St Thomas More Collegiate who were abused between 1976 and 1995.  

When the plaintiff reported the abuse to John Kavalec, the vice-principal of Vancouver college at the time, he allegedly “ignored his complaints and took no action,” according to the lawsuit. 

 All six men were convicted of either sexually or physically abusing children at Newfoundland orphanage: Edward English, Kevin Short, Douglas Kenny, Edward French, David Burton and Joseph Burke. 

 According to the lawsuit, English confessed to abusing children at Mount Cashel before his relocation. He was convicted in 1991 for multiple counts of sexual and physical assault at the orphanage and sentenced to 10 years in prison, the Canadian Press reported.

 The lawsuit also alleged that the order had transferred the abusers to other Christian Brothers facilities to “protect” the perpetrators.

“Following incidents of abuse, the (Christian Brothers) did not act to protect the children in their care, but to protect their abusers from criminal charges by moving them out of Newfoundland to teach at schools owned and operated by the (Christian Brothers).”

According to the Canadian Press, none of the allegations have been proven in court nor have statements of defense been filed. In addition to English, the lawsuit names the former Mount Cashel owner, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St John’s, Vancouver College, and St Thomas More Collegiate as defendants. 

Other defendants include the former Vancouver College vice-principal and Gerald Gabriel McHugh, then a high-ranking member of the Christian Brothers. The Christian Brothers declared bankruptcy in 2011 and is not named a defendant.

The lawsuit stated that the RCMP investigated allegations of sexual abuse at Mount Cashel in 1975 when English had confessed his actions to the police. He had also confirmed the allegations to McHugh at the time, but the Christian Brother member had intercepted the RCMP and deputy justice minister, and eventually agreed to transfer the abusive men from the province on the understanding no charges would be filed. 

McHugh sent English to St Thomas More where he taught until 1981, according to the lawsuit. When school officials received complaints of assault levelled against him, McHugh relocated him again to Vancouver College. English had not faced criminal charges in BC.

In a statement released February 7, Peter Hundt, Archbishop of St John’s, said that the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the Archdiocese’s application for Leave to Appeal, a decision that made the Archdiocese “vicariously liable” for the abuse at Mount Cashel.

“The resolution of these claims will have significant implications for the parishes and parishioners of our Archdiocese,” Hundt wrote, saying that he will address the allegations of injustice to the survivors.

“We are presently working with financial and other advisers to discern how best to move forward in addressing them. Further communications will be sent to the parishes as more information becomes available,” he added. 

In another statement published the next day, on February 8, Hundt said that “It would be premature for us to make any further public statement on this matter at the present time.”

Vancouver College said in a statement that it is reviewing the class-action filing and will respond once it has a comprehensive understanding of its details and implications, the Canadian Press reported.

“Vancouver College expresses profound concern and sympathy to anyone who has been impacted in any way by any abuse,” the institution stated.

St Thomas More College likewise expressed sympathy to the survivors and stated, “Abuse of any kind has no place here, nor in any learning environment,” according to the Canadian Press.

However, the Archdiocese of Vancouver said that it is unsure why it was named in the lawsuit and clarified that it does not own the two Vancouver-area schools, which operate independently of the Archdiocese.

Spokeswoman Melissa Godbout told the Canadian Press that independent foundations manage the two institutions. “They own their own land and buildings, have their own curriculum, and make all their own hiring decisions,” she said.

Wiki Production Code: A0610

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