The Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday declined to hear the Catholic Church’s appeal against a suit for damages brought by victims of sexual abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s Newfoundland. The decision brings finality to the 21-year-long litigation by former students who had suffered sexual abuse by five Brothers from the Christian Brothers Institute Inc, Ireland while they were boys living at the St John’s orphanage.
The Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s or the archdiocese is now responsible to pay the Christian Brothers’ outstanding damages after the organization declared bankruptcy from settling child abuse claims in 2011. The church had denied responsibility for the Mount Cashel abuses which took place from the 1950s to 1970s. However, the Court of Appeal had concluded in 2020 that the relationship between the archdiocese and the Brothers was “sufficiently close to justify imposing vicarious liability on the Archdiocese.”
Further, the sexual assaults of the victims were sufficiently connected to the Brothers’ responsibility of caring for the boys. The assaults were thus deemed to be a “materialization of the risks created by the Archdiocese.”
The full amount of compensation is still being finalized, but it has been estimated at $2.61 million for the four victims whose suit served as a test case for up to 60 other possible plaintiffs. The archdiocese said that it will review the Supreme Court’s decision and added: “The Archdiocese of St. John’s has immense sympathy for those who suffered abuse at Mount Cashel Orphanage and we ask that all join with us in praying for healing for those who suffer as a result of abuse.”
The Court of Appeal judgment can now be used as precedent in other cases to hold entities vicariously liable for institutions established and funded by them, even where the entities are not acting as employers and have no control over the day-to-day operations of the institutions.