WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.
From James Bay’s rugged shores to the Vatican’s gilded halls, Evelyn Korkmaz says she’s learned a lot about the Catholic Church and its entities.
“Their valuables are more important than humanity,” said Korkmaz, a survivor from St. Anne’s Indian Residential School, the infamous institution in northern Ontario, she was forced to attend and where she was abused as a child.
For years, Korkmaz has sought records and compensation, which she says the church owes her and other survivors. It’s a campaign that took her to Rome in 2019 to the Vatican Summit on Sexual Abuse.
“They have claimed to be poor, bankrupt. I went to the Vatican – they are far from bankrupt,” said Korkmaz, who has received some compensation but is still involved in lawsuits against the groups that run private schools.
They have claimed to be poor, bankrupt. I went to the Vatican – they are far from bankrupt.– Evelyn Korkmaz, survivor of a resident school
Those who have sued the church for past injustices say it is a big task to seek justice that has been made even more difficult by the complex corporate structure that they say is designed to protect Catholic entities.
A CBC study of a major entity – Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), which operates 48 schools across Canada – reveals a comprehensive network of more than two dozen business assets with at least $ 200 million in assets and cash, with a priority to take care of a dwindling number of aging priests in the face of threatening commitments.
In fact, an internal church bulletin from 2007 mentioned the inclusion of commitments as one of the main reasons for a company’s corporate restructuring.
The wafers are among the dozens of Catholic entities that come together promised 25 million to a fund approved in 2006 to compensate survivors for the emotional, physical and sexual abuse, as well as systemic violations of fundamental human rights, which have been subjected to in schools run by Catholic priests and nuns.
But the Catholic groups said they were only able to raise $ 3.9 million through the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), and in 2015, the federal government freed the Catholic Church from its settlement obligations.
A year before the controversial deal, the wafers sold a large area along the Rideau River in Ottawa, earning a handsome profit, which critics say is further proof of the church’s priorities.
“They sold property in Ottawa for $ 32 million. We know they spent over $ 110 million on the renovation of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto. We know that in Saskatoon they built a cathedral for $ 29 million. “They claim poverty and are unable to pay the compensation. I say that it is unfair,” said Donald Worme, a Saskatoon lawyer and former senior lawyer for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Worme now represents clients seeking information about unmarked graves at former residential schools. The three recent discoveries in Kamloops, BC, Marieval, Sask., And near Brandon, Man., Are all on properties that were once operated by the Oblates.
“When you sign a contract and say you want to give money to people, it’s a contract,” Korkmaz said. “What right does Canada have to let the church get off the hook?”
Older pastors ‘a big priority’
With headquarters in Ottawa, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate says they paid their share of what was to be paid.
“Under the terms of the settlement, the amount each entity paid was not disclosed,” wafer father Ken Thorson said in an email to CBC. “Together with the other Catholic entities, OMI has contributed an appropriate share to the IRSSA.”
There are only 300 wafer members living in Canada today; most are elderly and some need care, Thorson said.
But with the dwindling membership of priests and brothers, the order has more than 25 companies in Canada with assets in the hundreds of millions of dollars. About half share the same business addresses in Ottawa and Richelieu, Que., According to financial documents filed with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
No one has called them to task because they are the church, they are the good guys, they are a charity. “– Rob Talach, lawyer
All the Oblate companies run as charities that do not pay income tax. Their assets include several properties that also generally escape provincial taxation. Some are also exempt from disclosing their finances, making it impossible to calculate the exact value of their holdings, potentially making the real value of the assets higher.
“Some of the former business structures (ie companies) remain in operation and do not close down to serve a designated need, such as housing and / or local care for the elderly,” Thorson wrote. “Taking care of the needs of our elderly has become a major priority.
“The goal is to eventually wind up as many of these original businesses as possible for efficiency,” he wrote.
But Rob Talach, a lawyer in London, Ont., Believes Oblates has set up its current structure to avoid potential commitments.
For more than 20 years, Talach has filed at least 400 historic cases of sexual abuse against Catholic entities across Canada.
He points to a 2007 bulletin written by Frank Morrisey, a well-respected waiter, lawyer and canon law scholar, which describes “lessons from restructuring in the Roman Catholic Church.”
“At times, due to potential lawsuits, rather than merging entities or forming a union, we have had to create a new entity and leave the current one dormant until the cases are settled. Otherwise, the assets of the new entity will be contaminated. and subject to loss, “wrote Morrisey, who died in 2020.
Talach believes this is exactly what the wafers did in the early 2000s after the federal government set up the Office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada – the agency tasked with determining the claims of thousands of former students, including some against the wafers.
In 2003, Oblates created what is now its new parent company: OMI Lacombe Inc.
“They basically set up a brand new company, transferred assets,” Talach claims.
‘Rescued poor thing’
When Oblate executives assigned to inheritance companies were subsequently sued in a civil court for sexual abuse crimes, Talach says they “cried poor thing.”
“What they’re saying is, ‘Look, the device you’re suing is empty. “We will be gracious and we will pay you something from the new unit, but it must have big discount because a) we ‘are poor and b) we are not really the company that caused the damage’,” Talach said.
“No one has called them to task because they are the church; they are the good guys, they are a charity.”
Thorson questions Talach’s assessment, calling it “simply inaccurate.”
“Restructuring is not a process unique to the wafers. Many religious congregations have done the same – expanding or reducing the number of administrative units in response to ministry needs and the number of members,” he wrote in response to CBC’s questions.
The issue was further explained in the 2007 memo from Morrisey, where he referred to a hypothetical “naughty boy” scenario.
“A very common – and unfortunate – situation that we face is when a diocese… is reconfigured and a priest is now affiliated with the diocese ‘B’, even though he was previously part of the diocese ‘A’… It now emerges “In light of the fact that while the pastor was in the diocese ‘A’, he was a ‘naughty boy’. Who is in charge of the case? We have found it most useful to have it clarified in the division agreement.”
Who is responsible is the focus of a newly certified class action lawsuit in Quebec alleging historical sexual abuse of five Oblate missionaries against children and women in northern Quebec’s indigenous community from 1941 to the 1980s.
The lawsuit, which represents at least 220 plaintiffs suing seven Oblate companies in Quebec, was upheld by a judge on November 16.
The wafer operations in Quebec are overseen by another senior pastor, but records show overlap and relationships between the various units.
The Quebec executives in Quebec would not comment, “given the legal and judicial issues we are dealing with at the moment.”
Debt still owed
Canadians, especially Catholic parishioners, need to play a role in pressuring church leaders to act, Worme said. “They must encourage their religious entities to do the right thing.”
This is not just about money, he said. Many have called for the release of any school records held by the church, saying they could provide closure for survivors or the families of those who never returned home.
“Repairs are really secondary,” Worme said. “What is important is the production of the records that contain the keys to the unanswered questions from the missing children and the unmarked graves.”
An apology from the pope is also important, he said, because without it there will continue to be “concealment and denial.”
But survivor Evelyn Korkmaz wants more than one apology.
“He’d better come up with the documents that owe us – our story,” she said. “And he’d better come with the money promised in the deal.”
Support is available to anyone affected by the persistent effects of continuing education and those triggered by recent reports.
A national Indian crisis line for residential schools has been set up to provide support to survivors from residential schools and other affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.