The iconic Basilica of St. John the Baptist could be sold as the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John deals with insolvency.
That’s according to new court filings that shed more light on how the company plans to deal with liabilities in historic sexual abuse cases.
The proceedings unfolded in the courtroom on Thursday, where a judge was asked to approve a pending sale of a monastery and begin the process of determining the fate of millions raised through a Chase the Ace over four years ago.
According to a trustee report, work is underway to formalize a strategy for the sale of landed properties in St. John’s.
Nineteen church properties – including the basilica – are included in this initial list.
The company is proposing to put properties up for auction, the document says, and intends to seek court approval for the final process.
Last month, the company filed for protection from creditors.
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador this month, Archbishop Peter Hundt noted that he “has faced significant and costly legal challenges over claims of sexual abuse and the refusal of some insurers to respond to such claims in recent years”. .”
In 2018, a judge ruled that the archdiocese was not responsible for the abuse suffered by four boys at the Mount Cashel orphanage in the 1940s and 1950s.
But that decision was overturned two years later, with the appeals court finding the Catholic Church vicariously liable for abuses perpetrated by the Christian Brethren who ran Mount Cashel.
The Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the case, finalizing that decision.
Last year, the four victims filed a judgment with the sheriff’s office to enforce a $2.4 million payment.
According to documents filed in ongoing creditor protection proceedings, the archdiocese has since received claims from St. John’s law firms representing more than 100 men who are expected to seek more than $50 million.
The Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s has also been named co-defendant in a proposed class action lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
Questions about Chase the Ace cash
The Episcopal Corporation is asking a judge if millions of dollars raised in a high-profile Chase the Ace fundraiser at St. Kevin’s Parish will be made available to creditors.
This event became a summer sensation in 2017, with tens of thousands of people turning out in the Goulds neighborhood of St. John’s the night the winning card was handed out.
The card contest brought in millions of dollars in prizes and raised a windfall of $5.8 million for the parish.
Now, one wonders if this windfall for the parish is an asset that can be divided among creditors or used during the restructuring process.
According to court filings, St. Kevin’s took the position that the funds must be used for the purposes set out in its lottery license application.
An independent arbitrator – former retired chief justice David Orsborn – agreed.
But his opinion does not bind the other parties, such as the creditors, and the judge of the insolvency proceedings will be invited to decide.
The trustee believes that the funds are an asset of the company and should be available for distribution among creditors.
A hearing is scheduled for February 28 for the judge to hear submissions on the Chase the Ace matter.
Real estate sales proposals
At Thursday’s Supreme Court hearing, the Episcopal Corporation received approval for the sale of Mount St. Francis Monastery on Merrymeeting Road in St. John’s, although creditors’ lawyers expressed disappointment at the price of purchase.
Details of the transaction were sealed by Judge Garrett Handrigan. All parties expressed support for this.
Plans are underway to bring more properties to market, but it is possible that they will ultimately remain affiliated with the church.
“The Bishop, in consultation with select parishioners, is actively seeking options that would allow parishioners…to participate in the proposed bidding process and/or subsequent sales initiatives as a means of purchasing real estate selected by the through a competitive court-supervised sale process,” the trustee noted in his report.
“Parishioners are logical buyers for some of the unique church properties identified subject to the completion of adequate fundraising initiatives.”
The trustee notes that the complete liquidation of the real estate should be done through a mix of buyers.
Handrigan also issued an order allowing an extension of time for the archdiocese to file a proposal under insolvency laws. It was pushed back 45 days, to early March.
There are 34 parishes under the episcopal corporation.
The parishes operate as separate unincorporated entities and are each responsible for their own operations. But they are all subject to the direction and supervision of the archbishop.
In addition to the sexual abuse allegations, Hundt’s affidavit notes financial challenges related to changing parishioner demographics and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.