St John’s rural properties next up on auction block

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St. Teresa’s Church in the Mundy Pond area of St. John’s, Nfld. [Photo from Facebook]

By Quinton Amundson

CALGARY, Canada, (The Catholic Register) – With the sale of church properties in the greater St. John’s area almost complete, the Newfoundland archdiocese is now eyeing the sale of some of its rural properties to compensate abuse survivors from the Mount Cashel Orphanage.

The sale of parish property in the St John’s area has raised around $20.6 million. But that is far short of the estimated $50 million the archdiocese is liable for to compensate the victims of abuse who were at the now-closed and demolished St John’s orphanage in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

In 2020, the Newfoundland Court of Appeals ruled the archdiocese was vicariously liable for the atrocities committed at Mount Cashel and ordered the archdiocese to cover the liability left the survivors when the Christian Brothers went bankrupt. The ruling forced the archdiocese itself into bankruptcy, and the decision was made to sell properties to meet its court-ordered liabilities.

Seventy properties in the rural area of the archdiocese, which includes the southern Avalon Peninsula and the Burin Peninsula, are poised to enter an auctioning process.

“Most of the rural areas of the archdiocese are only now having to make the difficult decisions and sacrifices that the greater St. John’s area faced earlier this year,” Archbishop Peter Hundt said in a statement to St John’s Catholics late last month. “I hope that the positive results in the St John’s area and our prayers for God’s wisdom and grace will inspire and guide all those Catholic communities still discerning how to move forward in this difficult but necessary restructuring process.”

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador approved the sale of 43 properties formerly belonging to the archdiocese, including 13 parishes. The court-appointed monitor, the Halifax-based firm Ernst & Young, directly oversaw the tender bid process.

Hundt’s statement expressed gratitude for the parishioners in the St John’s area “who with patient trust in God’s goodness have prayed for His guidance, and worked with their parish priest and lay leaders in accepting the sometimes-difficult decisions and huge sacrifices that have been required.”

It’s been a painful process for many and has spawned hurt feelings from parish communities who have had to, reluctantly, say goodbye to their parish. Notable on this list is Holy Rosary Church, which closed its doors after 107 years in Portugal Cove-St Philips. Parishioners actually believed they had saved their house of worship when they raised the necessary funds to buy the property through the auction, only to have their church close anyway when Hundt informed the parish steering committee that a priest would not be provided for the parish. The congregation’s small size was cited as the primary reason behind this decision.

More than 100 Mount Cashel survivors have come forward to date to seek compensation. Hundt stated the archdiocesan legal counsel is working with the court monitor and the claimants’ representative counsel to iron out the ultimate number and value of claims that must be paid out by the episcopal corporation. This process is expected to take several months to unfold.

“I hope by this time next year the claims process will be complete, and the victims of abuse and their families will have received from it a measure of healing and peace,” wrote Hundt. “Likewise, I hope by then the archdiocese will have completed our restructuring process and all parishioners will feel settled and at home in their amalgamated parish communities. However, in the meantime there is still much to be done and many challenges and emotions to be faced and accepted.”

The archdiocese is also developing a new corporate structure that it plans to implement January 1. Meetings have been ongoing with parish priests, lay employees and parish finance councils to iron out the new structure.

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