11 Jan 2011

Canada's newest Catholic saint belonged to order under investigation for widespread sexual crimes against students

New York Times - October 29, 2010

A Saint, and an Inquiry Into the Sins of His Brothers


MONTREAL — At least 50,000 Quebecers are expected to gather Saturday for something most rarely do: attend a religious service.

But the Mass at the Olympic Stadium to celebrate the elevation of Brother André, a school porter and faith healer who died 73 years ago, to sainthood is one of many contradictions surrounding religion, and Roman Catholicism in particular, in Quebec.

By most measures, the province is the most secular in Canada. Only 15 percent of Catholics regularly attend church and Quebecers have long rejected the church’s teachings on birth control, marriage and homosexuality.

But that does not mean they have entirely abandoned its influence five decades after the province’s Quiet Revolution removed the Roman Catholic Church’s control over education, health care and social services.

“In Quebec, people are not specifically anti-Catholicism, but they are anti-clericalism,” said Gilles Routhier, a professor of theology at Laval University in Quebec City. “Brother André doesn’t particularly represent the church’s power. He was a simple, illiterate, modest person. People recognize themselves in Brother André.”

But amid the celebrations over Brother André’s canonization — which took place this month in Rome — another issue looms. The police have opened an investigation into accusations of widespread sexual abuse of students at the Collège Notre Dame decades after Brother André worked there. These, to a large degree, have been advanced by a former member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the order to which Brother André belonged and that controls the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

The order has said it will cooperate with the police investigation. Officials have apologized for acts they said “should never have occurred” and have said the congregation “will bear the responsibility of indemnifying all victims concerned.”

Just before the canonization in Rome, Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, the archbishop of Montreal, paid Brother André what might be the ultimate compliment in Quebec. Rather than compare him to a religious or historical figure, Cardinal Turcotte turned to the province’s greatest hockey hero. Brother André, he told Le Devoir, a Montreal paper, is “the Maurice Richard of religion.”

The youngest of 10 children from a poor family, Alfred Bessette, as he was originally known, was an orphan at 12. Somewhat unhealthy and poorly educated, he became a brother with the Holy Cross congregation in 1870 and was given the lowly position of porter at Collège Notre Dame.

Over time, he developed a reputation as someone who was open to speaking with the poor. People who were ill claimed that meeting with Brother André brought a cure, a suggestion he always rejected.

He often met the afflicted at a streetcar station by the school. But as their numbers grew, he used their donations to build a chapel, or oratory, to St. Joseph on a hillside opposite the school.

The tiny chapel grew into an immense basilica that took 30 years to complete and that still dominates the city’s western skyline. Newspaper accounts in 1937 estimated that one million mourners passed by Brother André’s coffin.

By some accounts, 125,000 medical miracles have been attributed to Brother André. But Donald L. Boisvert, a professor of religion at Concordia University in Montreal, said that whether or not any of them actually occurred was almost beside the point.

“He provided people with a listening ear and was also able to offer them some medical hope at a cheap price when there was no medical care for many,” he said.

The attention now focused on Brother André renewed calls for a police investigation into the abuse accusations, which were first detailed almost two years ago by The Gazette, Montreal’s English-language newspaper. The source for many accusations was Wilson Kennedy, the order’s former provincial steward for the Province of Canada, a position similar to that of chief financial officer.

After 21 years with the order, Mr. Kennedy resigned in 2006, dismayed by what he called its lack of effective action against members who sexually abused minors and its loss of focus on the needs of the poor.

Before leaving, Mr. Kennedy asked a lawyer who represented the congregation for 24 years to document incidents that might leave it open to lawsuits. The resulting nine-page letter lays out several cases of abuse of minors. One man, according to the letter, was secretly paid about $245,000 after being abused by three brothers when he was a student at Notre Dame. Another brother who, according to the lawyer, was “rarely involved with minors” was known to “give away bronzed giant medals of Brother André in exchange for sex.”

The college is still controlled by the congregation, but brothers and priests no longer teach or administer its operations. Boarding ended in 2001.

Mr. Kennedy said he would not be among the tens of thousands of worshipers at Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

“Religious life is not what they said it is,” he said. “It has ruined my faith. I don’t have any faith in this institution. How do you make sense of God in all of this?”

This article was found at:



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1 comment:

  1. Order of Quebec’s Brother André admits to sex abuse, agrees to $18-million payout

    by INGRID PERITZ October 06, 2011

    The Congregation of the Holy Cross is one of Quebec’s most high-profile religious orders, its name associated with the landmark St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal and the name of Brother André, the Holy Cross doorman who became a saint.

    But on Thursday the Roman Catholic congregation made headlines for scandal, not glory. The order, whose roots date to the French Revolution and whose clergy were entrusted with the education of the sons of Quebec’s best families, agreed to pay up to $18-million to former students who were sexually abused in its care over a span of decades.

    The congregation also agreed to issue a blunt apology. It admitted to the suffering caused by abusive teachers and staff in positions of authority and said, “such acts should have never happened.” “Some members of our Congregation have broken their vows and failed in their mission,” Jean-Pierre Aumont, Canadian provincial superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross, said in a statement. “As leader and representative of this Congregation, I am deeply pained by these transgressions.”

    The payout in the out-of-court settlement was described as the largest in Quebec for a religious congregation, and was greeted with a measure of relief by former students who have been speaking out for years about abuse. The best-known of the institutions involved in the abuses is Collège Notre Dame, a greystone-sheathed boarding school across the street from the imposing St. Joseph’s Oratory; both institutions still belong to the Holy Cross order. (Catholic brothers no longer teach at the private school, however; as for St. André, he died in 1937, decades before the abuses cited in the lawsuit).

    Sébastien Richard was sexually abused by a priest at the age of 13 while getting math tutoring at Notre Dame in the 1970s. A former choirboy, he says the sexual touching, though he thought little of it at the time, led to years of behavioural problems and difficulty dealing with authority. “This settlement is important so that we break the silence in Quebec,” said Mr. Richard, 48. “Unfortunately with our strong Catholic past there are a lot of people who were victims of abuse. We want to tell people who are ashamed of what happened that they are victims, and they shouldn’t be ashamed.”

    The settlement applies to victims who attended Notre Dame from 1950 to 2001, along with two other schools outside Montreal during shorter periods. Claimants will be eligible for between $10,000 and $250,000 each depending on the extent of the abuse – from touching to full sexual encounters – as well as the after-effects.

    Lawyer Alain Arsenault, who represents the victims, described the settlement as historic, both for the size of the payout and the number of former students expected to come forward to file claims, which could reach 85. “The congregation has recognized that there were pedophiles among them, and that has never been done before,” he said in an interview. “This order is one of the most important in Quebec. It’s Brother André, it’s St. Joseph’s Oratory. It has moral and religious prestige.”

    The existence of widespread abuse and the silence of the Catholic brothers came to light after an exposé by The Gazette in Montreal in 2008. Robert Cornellier’s brother, René Jr., attended Notre Dame in the early 1970s and fruitlessly denounced sexual abuses he suffered to the school authorities in 1993. But he never told his family and led a troubled life before his death in 1994. On Thursday, Robert, tears filling his eyes, said the congregation’s apology was perhaps the most important victory.

    “They’re finally recognizing, after 18 years, that my brother was a victim, and that they are guilty in some way for what they did,” he said. “For us that may be the most important thing today. His death wasn’t in vain.”