Copied from the National Post

Thursday, September 16, 1999

Duplessis Orphans get no apology, compensation

Campbell Clark

Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte explains the Catholic Church's position toward the Duplessis Orphans, as Bishop Pierre Morissette listens.

Catholic Church 'scorn' an outrage, committee says

CAP-DE-LA-MADELEINE, QUE. - Quebec's Roman Catholic bishops announced yesterday the church will offer no apology and no financial compensation to the so-called Duplessis Orphans, who were interned in church-run mental institutions in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s.

The three most senior Catholic leaders in the province said that after a five-month consultation with church leaders, they concluded the church "has already given," to help surviving orphans, and that issuing an apology would mean denigrating the work of nuns and monks who operated the institutions.

"In a sense, there is a path that has been called for, that of compensations and apologies, which we all know," said Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, Archbishop of Montreal. "As the government did, we said we are wasting our time with that. We won't go that way."

The bishops said they recognized that the Duplessis Orphans had "difficult" lives, but said the religious orders of the day did what they could to help, and any blame for healthy children being funnelled into psychiatric hospitals lies with the government, and possibly the doctors involved. While there may have been individual cases of physical or sexual abuse, there was no "system of abuse" in the institutions that allowed it to occur regularly, they said.

The reaction from the committee that represents surviving orphans was vitriolic: "What outrages me most was the scorn that accompanied the refusal," said Bruno Roy, the president of the committee. "To say that to apologize is to waste time, that's irony, that's scorn, that's an insult to the victims."

The Duplessis Orphans - named after Maurice Duplessis, the premier of Quebec during most of the era - were left in the care of orphanages and schools run by Catholic religious orders, but ended up in mental institutions.

Many were falsely diagnosed as mentally retarded or mentally ill, while in at least one case, a residential school became a psychiatric hospital overnight. More money could be obtained for the care of the mental patients, since the Quebec government could obtain federal funds for hospitals, but not schools.

Hundreds of the orphans - who were in fact mostly children of unwed parents - later reported they were physically and sexually abused.

Earlier this year, the Quebec government apologized for the treatment of the orphans, but refused demands for financial compensation packages. Instead, they offered to create a $3-million fund to provide social services to victims - about $1,000 for each of the estimate 3,000 surviving orphans. The bishops said yesterday they will co-operate with that effort.

Bishop Pierre Morissette of Baie-Comeau, the chairman of the Quebec Assembly of Bishops, said the members of the religious orders who operated the institutions devoted their lives to helping children "abandoned by their families." An apology, he said, "would be a betrayal, in a way, of these people."