After a unique legal battle in Newfoundland, a local parish will keep part of the millions of dollars it raised in a lottery, while the rest will go to the archdiocese of St. John’s to pay survivors of abuse at a city orphanage.
Kyle Rees, the lawyer representing St. Kevin’s parish in the Goulds neighbourhood of St. John’s, says though his client had hoped to keep all the money, the settlement reached Sunday night means it will own its church and parish hall.
“That’s very significant,” Rees said in an interview Tuesday. “It becomes the first Catholic church in this province, likely one of the first in Canada, to own itself.”
That means no matter what happens to the St. John’s Roman Catholic archdiocese, which oversees 34 parishes in the capital region of the province, St. Kevin’s won’t be affected and it can keep doing its work in the community.
Last January, a Supreme Court of Canada ruling left the archdiocese, known as the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s, liable for physical and sexual abuse committed at the Mount Cashel orphanage during the 1940s and 1950s. The four lead plaintiffs have filed for a payout of nearly $2.4-million, and court documents show the church anticipates at least 100 more victims to come forward with claims totalling more than $50-million.
The archdiocese filed for creditor protection on Dec. 21, 2021, asking for time to come up with a plan to afford the payouts. It then set its sights on the more than $5.5-million raised by St. Kevin’s with a Chase the Ace fundraiser launched in the summer of2017. The fundraiser began as a typical church event, but the jackpot kept growing as the ace of spades eluded players week after week. The person who finally drew the winning card took home $2.6-million.
Meanwhile, thousands of people flooded into the rural St. John’s neighbourhood every Thursday night for a shot at the money.
In a non-binding decision last November, an independent arbitrator ruled the money belonged to St. Kevin’s, in accordance with provincial lottery legislation. The case was scheduled to be heard in provincial Supreme Court on Monday, but lawyers for the two parties – the parish and the archdiocese – reached an agreement on Sunday night.
“It was a pretty unprecedented legal issue that hadn’t really been argued anywhere in Canada before,” Rees said, adding that whatever the ruling, it had a high likelihood of being appealed. “It called out for a settlement.”
St. Kevin’s can keep part of the money, but the episcopal corporation gets a portion too, though the amounts cannot be made public, as part of the agreement, Rees said. The archdiocese will also transfer ownership of the church and parish hall, valued at about $1-million, to St. Kevin’s, he said.
Since raising all that money with the Chase the Ace lottery, St. Kevin’s has put a lot of work into its parish hall, he said.
“They’ve got a huge food bank … and they’re going to run their parish hall as a soup kitchen, as an emergency warming shelter and as an event space for weddings and things,” Rees said. “Really, it’s less of a church and more of a community centre, and they’re going to be able to continue to do all that.”
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