LETTER: Unfair to use assets raised by N.L. Roman Catholic parishioners to compensate victims of sexual abuse: priest

Saltwire Network [Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada]

March 22, 2022

St. Augustine once said in his Easter Sermon, 227: “If we receive the Eucharist worthily, we become what we receive.” If the Eucharist encompasses all virtues of justice, compassion, care for the oppressed, and commandments of love of God and love of neighbour, the commandments Jesus himself taught his disciples.

Today, the clamour for justice from the parish level — the clamour from the parishioners themselves who make up the church congregation — falls on deaf ears.

This clamour is related to the protection of their interest as parishioners, as the very people that helped put together the church properties that include buildings for worship and related faith activities. It includes as well Family Aid that is meant to assist parishioners and all other people that are in need.

These assets of the church are now for sale. Some of the parishes have been shut, thus depriving the parishioners of the opportunity to practice their faith and be with the members of their faith community.

The proceeds of the sale of these assets are intended to pay off the claims of victims of sexual abuse, an act that has nothing to do with the parishioners. Today, the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s or RCECSJ is faced with sexual abuse cases that happened at Mount Cashel Orphanage from the 1940s until the 1960s. Parishioners, priests, and employees in parishes at the Archdiocese are taking the beating as a result of decisions of the courts pertaining to how these assets are to be disposed in order to pay the victims.

There are psycho-social, physical, moral, and spiritual costs that need to be factored in even as we listen to the cries of the victims of sexual abuse. There is the initial exodus of believers. The big question is this: Why is it that the parishioners and the parishes are to pay for the claims by disposing of the assets of the churches that have helped build? Why should they be at the receiving when they did not have any direct connection to these sexual abuses?

When the Archdiocese filed for Creditor Protection under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act on December 20, 2021, parishioners were told that “this is a court case and they could not do anything about it.” Furthermore, they were told, “Parishes that are not financially viable and self-sustaining need to be closed.”

The Archdiocese, with the help of the Trustee, has consolidated the parish funds totalling $1.01 million and used a portion of these funds as operating capital for parishes to operate for 45 days, although the Third Report of the Trustee states that these funds were fundraised and donated by parishioners in the parish level.

Parishioners recognize that the Archdiocese and its Trustees are working to pay off these claims of the victims of sexual abuse. This is a right course of action. But to use the assets of the parishes that the parishioners themselves helped to put together must not be used to pay the victims. The parishioners did not commit the sexual abuse; others perpetrated this, not them.

On this note, we need to ask a difficult but important question: “Can parishioners put a claim to these assets that they helped put together in furtherance of building a faith community that believes in the justice of the Eucharist?” At the core of the Eucharist, we must remember, is justice itself.

Fr. Nelson Boren,
St. Lawrence, Burin Peninsula