The Roman Catholic Church has been ordered to pay settlements totalling $104 million to 292 survivors of historical abuse in Newfoundland and Labrador, including those at the now infamous Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John's.

The decision Friday was met with relief, hurt and even grief by survivors who've endured a decades-long fight for justice, said lawyer Geoff Budden. His firm represents more than 200 survivors of abuse at the former Mount Cashel orphanage from the 1940s to the early 1960s.

"Some get validation from this," he said in an interview. "They are happy that they were believed, that their claims were accepted and they're going to receive compensation ... but it triggers. It brings back memories, and it's a struggle."

And the fight is not over, he said: the church doesn't have enough money to pay the settlements.

The totals published Friday include claims from Mount Cashel and other abuse cases involving the church over the past few decades, Budden said. 

So far, 292 abuse claims have been accepted, the court document said. Ten more are pending, and 65 were disallowed. The average entitlement is about $356,000, but they range from $55,000 to $850,000. 

It was the Mount Cashel case that allowed these settlements to happen. Through a winding series of court cases that began in 1999, Budden and his team successfully argued that the church was liable for physical and sexual abuse suffered by the boys at Mount Cashel at the hands of the Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic lay order that ran the facility.

The liability was cemented in 2021, when the Supreme Court of Canada refused a bid by the Roman Catholic archdiocese in St. John to appeal a lower court decision.

The orphanage was closed in 1990 and demolished in 1992. The horrors that happened inside its walls precipitated a massive cultural shift away from the authority of the church in Newfoundland and Labrador.

After the Mount Cashel case established that the church could be held responsible for the actions of its members, lawyers could make the same argument in other abuse cases involving the church, Budden said.

Nine of Budden's clients from the original Mount Cashel file died waiting for a resolution, he said. The claims included in Friday's sum involved estates of roughly 30 people who were involved in court cases and died waiting for a settlement, he added.

The archdiocese only has about $45 million on hand to pay these settlements. The cash was raised during ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, when it sold off properties in eastern Newfoundland, including the famed Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John's.

Bob Buckingham, a St. John's lawyer whose firm represents 70 survivors whose claims were accepted, said he is working with Budden to identify additional sources of money. Possibilities include church insurance policies, other religious organizations and the provincial government, Buckingham said in a news release.

“This is the first page in the final chapter of the torturous battle the (church) has put our clients through for decades," he said. "Throughout the course of this battle we offered the church opportunities to resolve these matters on a number of occasions. They refused. Instead, they litigated it through to the very last moment.”

The settlements can still be appealed, by the church or by claimants, he said.

Budden, too, said there are other avenues to raise the money. "No guarantees, but I'm optimistic we can get there," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2024.