Catholic parishioners in the Archdiocese of St. John’s are in an ’emotional state’ as time draws to a close to redeem their churches

ST. JOHN’S, NL — With bidding due for Catholic Church properties in the Archdiocese of St. John’s weeks away, pledging campaigns and GoFundMe campaigns are heating up as parishes try to make the cut the finish line.

“Things are going pretty well,” said Rick Power, chairman of the finance committee at St. Teresa’s Church in St. John’s.

But outside interests could also bid on the site, which overlooks Mundy Pond in central St. John’s.

There is no guarantee that the parishes will win.

Parishes in the archdiocese are scrambling to save their churches, named along with various other properties on a tender list as part of the Corp’s insolvency. Episcopal Church of St. John’s, the corporate branch of the church.

It is the result of the Archdiocese losing its fight for compensation for victims of abuse at the former Mount Cashel Orphanage from the 1940s to the 1960s.

The church had claimed that the lay order of the Christian Brothers – which ran the orphanage – was independent. and therefore solely responsible for the sexual abuse of the boys by some members of the Irish Christian Brothers. But the archdiocese was held vicariously liable by the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court of Appeal.

Open any parish website these days and you’ll see something like this: “URGENT: call for pledges to save St. Therese Parish, 2022,” followed by a link to a pledge sheet.

“We need to keep our weekly collections high enough to keep paying our monthly expenses. Thank you for increasing your weekly donations. You give us courage. With 15% of our bid, a tender proposal must be submitted to the trustee’s office in Halifax by noon on June 2, 2022,” the call reads.

“Proposals will be open this afternoon at 2 p.m. We should know if we are successful by June 16, 2022. At that time, we must have our full bid amount or lose the 15% deposit. A mortgage is highly unlikely.

Power has attended St. Teresa most of her life. Like any other church for the faithful, it is the place that marked all stages of life – weddings, baptisms and funerals.

“We will have to see where this leads. Nobody knows how this is going to end,” Power said.

“If we collect what we think is reasonable, then our committee will go to the parishioners and get their blessing. And if we succeed, then we have the church.

The volunteer committee and parishioners are nervous, he says.

“There’s really a lot of work going into it,” Power said.

“It’s an emotional state for everyone.”

“If we collect what we think is reasonable, then our committee will go to the parishioners and get their blessing. And if we succeed, then we have the church.
—Rick Power

Ron Ellsworth, a real estate agent (as well as a general councilor in St. John’s) sold residential properties for the church.

Some vacant land in the bidding process will appeal to developers, but Ellsworth said he doesn’t expect much upheaval on properties containing church structures when winning bids are announced. .

“I would be shocked if there were any major surprises for any of the parishes, to be honest,” he said.

Many properties are zoned institutional and, unlike an estate sale, there is no option in the bidding process for a rezoning condition, he noted.

Ron Elsworth.  -Keith Gosse
Ron Elsworth. -Keith Gosse

He also noted that there could be environmental issues for some properties and the high cost of repurposing some buildings will be a daunting task.

Corpus Christi is in a flood zone, as is its parking lot across the street.

And in smaller towns, local businesses are likely to be reluctant to buy under the church, Ellsworth said.

Geoff Budden, the victims’ lead lawyer – he won the case after more than two decades of work – said he hoped there would be an interim distribution to claimants by the end of 2022.

“That’s our goal,” he said.

The claims process is still being developed and will be finalized over the summer and fall.

The victims continue to come forward.

Some of the survivors of abuse at Mount Cashel await the start of legal proceedings in St. John's, 2019. - SaltWire Network File Photo
Some of the survivors of abuse at Mount Cashel await the start of legal proceedings in St. John’s, 2019. – SaltWire Network File Photo

As for the parishes, Budden noted that the process has given them several months this year, and all of 2021 (since the Supreme Court of Canada has refused to allow the archdiocese’s appeal to be heard).

“It was pretty clear since then, if not even before, that was how things were going to go,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled on a claim by the RC Episcopal Corp. to convert insolvency into the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act rather than the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. This loosens time restrictions.

It takes effect on May 17.

The victims’ legal team had opposed it, arguing that it was premature and would increase costs, thereby decreasing the funds available to distribute to them.

Budden said Tuesday’s court ruling — released Wednesday — isn’t expected to have a big impact on the survivors’ schedule, however.

Ernst and Young will continue to oversee the process.

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