Ex-Bergen Instructor Admits He Beat Teen

By Ana M. Alaya
The Star-Ledger [Newark, New Jersey]
August 25, 2000

A former teacher at a prominent Catholic high school in Bergen County pleaded guilty yesterday to savagely beating a teenage boy at an orphanage in Newfoundland in the late 1950s, bringing to a close one of Canada's most troubling and infamous criminal cases.

In exchange for the guilty plea, Canadian prosecutors dropped eight other assault charges against Brother Thomas Cuthbert Ford, 66, a retired member of the Congregation of Christian Brothers and a former math teacher at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell.

"Mr. Ford acknowledged he was excessive in his punishment and apologized publicly to the victim for his conduct," said Geoffrey Budden, the lawyer representing Edgar Hartery and three other men who say they were victimized by Ford at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's 40 years ago.

Ford, who abruptly abandoned his teaching position at Bergen Catholic and went into hiding after he was indicted in 1996, is the last of 13 people to be convicted in the orphanage scandal, the subject of a decade-long investigation by Canadian prosecutors.

Investigators found that Ford and other members of the Christian Brothers routinely abused residents at Mount Cashel between 1945 and 1975.

The orphans' plight inspired the award-winning docudrama "The Boys of St. Vincent," and the criminal cases that followed have been among the most closely watched in Canadian history.

The revelations also shattered the new life Ford crafted for himself at Bergen Catholic, where he had taught since 1986. Stunned administrators at the time said they had received no complaints about Ford and were unaware of his alleged attacks in Canada, where former residents of the orphanage described him as a Ford 27 Ex-teacher admits assaulting teen fearsome man with a hair-trigger temper.

On the run for two years, Ford resurfaced in Hackensack in 1998, fighting extradition to Canada in court. He relented in the extradition battle last week, agreeing to face his past.

Yesterday, he did just that, pleading guilty to a single count of assault causing bodily harm.

Dressed in a dark suit and white collar, the religious order's standard garb, Ford stood before at least six former Mount Cashel orphans, their families and Hartery in a St. John's courthouse, saying he "prayed for Edgar every day" since he became aware of the allegations, Budden said.

Ford was being held in a St. John's jail last night while awaiting sentencing, scheduled for 11 a.m. today.

John Brooks, the Newfoundland prosecutor on the case, said he asked the judge to sentence Ford to six months in prison on the assault charge.

Brooks said Ford's lawyer, David Eaton, asked for a discharge, which essentially would allow Ford to go home with no criminal record. Eaton did not return numerous calls for comment.

Prosecutors alleged Ford viciously beat Hartery, then 15, with his belt and fists, leaving him unconscious in the shower at the orphanage.

"It was a very brutal attack," said Budden, adding that Hartery had a speech impediment at the time. "Ford absolutely just beat this child in front of the other children. He was an orphan under the supervision of these men 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. He was physically weaker and infinitely more vulnerable. He still is very troubled by it and gets very upset talking about it."

Budden said the three other alleged victims he represents were disappointed that the remaining assault charges were dropped under the plea deal, but added his clients recognized that the most serious incident was the assault against Hartery. Forty years later, many of the victims remain bitter, their anger hardly assuaged by Ford's courtroom apology.

James Byrne, a Mount Cashel victim who heads a survivors' action group, called Ford's expression of regret nothing more than "crocodile tears."

Investigators in the Mount Cashel cases said nine witnesses recalled Ford punching, kicking and lashing residents with his leather switch for infractions such as stepping out of the food line, speaking out of turn or failing to follow simple instructions.

The Congregation of Christian Brothers, based in Rome, operates Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., Bergen Catholic and 500 other schools and institutions throughout the world. Leaders of the congregation's branch based in New Rochelle have voiced their support for Ford in statements released in past years. Yesterday, no one from the congregation was available for comment.

Bergen Catholic officials also could not be reached for comment.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.