Collection plate cash won’t go to litigation bills

Published December 1, 1999

Money put in the collection plate this Sunday won’t end up settling a residential schools lawsuit against the church. Legal bills, court costs and damages to settle lawsuits are all being paid from reserves and other assets.

For the year 2000, the national church is forecasting a $1-million budget deficit, entirely as a result of litigation related to residential schools, Council of General Synod heard at its November meeting here. The church will dip into the $1.9 million in reserves held by the Missionary Society of the Anglican Church of Canada to cover the deficit. Meanwhile, the church is negotiating with the federal government to limit the amount it may have to pay to settle the more than 200 outstanding claims against it.

Council members suggested a letter be sent to all dioceses, reassuring parishioners their money is not being used on lawsuits. Fears that donations to the collection plate, bequests or planned giving might dry up in response to the residential schools lawsuits were also raised at the House of Bishops meeting in late October. All the money from parishioners that ends up at the national church level is being put to work in current programs, said the church’s treasurer, Jim Cullen.

The church estimates it will end 1999 having spent $275,000 on litigation related to residential schools. This is after recovering monies from insurance companies, including legal costs for the Lytton trial.

In a related issue, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund approached council about incorporating as a non-profit charitable organization in order to ensure its donations continue to go where donors are told they will. One lawyer told the church there is a remote possibility a judge would consider some of its money as available for settlements, since the fund’s mission statement includes aboriginal development.

No decision was made at the council meeting but the incorporation issue caused lengthy debate. Fears were raised that the church might look as if it was trying to hide its assets. Concerns were also raised that the church would lose control of the fund. In the end, council decided it lacked enough information to vote on the issue. It will be raised again in May after a fuller report is prepared.

In October, some bishops raised the possibility of reorganizing the church to reassure parishioners their donations won’t end up with lawyers. Other bishops countered that the church could be seen as trying to sneak out of its obligations by channelling money into unreachable pockets. Mr. Cullen said that if parishioners believe their money is going to lawyers and settlements, there will be a backlash and a resulting drop in revenues would impede the church’s work.

“It’s not protecting our assets but protecting our future revenue,” he said. Bishops spoke of the different reactions they have heard in their dioceses.

Bishop Duncan Wallace of Qu’Appelle — the diocese with the largest number of legal claims against it — said he has heard three reactions. The first is a denial and a hope that the lawsuits will just go away. The second reaction is anger, a sense of “why are we responsible?” The third reaction is an acceptance that the church does have some responsibility for the issue.

Suffragan Bishop Robert Townshend of Huron — another diocese with outstanding legal claims — said many people in his diocese “don’t even want to hear about it. They want it to go right by them.” Some of the big givers in the diocese still do not understand why the Primate made an apology to Natives in 1993 for the residential schools, he said.

Education of non-Natives is needed to explain what’s going on, Bishop Townshend said. “The vast majority of the diocese hopes it goes away and won’t cost a cent,” he said.

In New Westminster, parishioners have asked, “when do we stop giving to the national church?” Bishop Michael Ingham said. Drops in donations are showing up so far mostly in planned giving, he said. “If we anticipate a gradual stripping of the assets of General Synod, should we start thinking of an alternative national structure?” he asked.

His diocese is concerned about overseas mission and support for the north and people are wondering whether they should find another way to channel their money to these kinds of uses, he said.

Bishop Ron Ferris of Algoma noted that not everyone accepts the notion of generational guilt — that one generation must make reparations for the sins of the previous generation.

But Archbishop David Crawley said “that presumes we have a lot of choice. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether we agree with generational guilt or not. In the corporate structure, we have to pay for the sins of the corporate parents. “The church has deluded itself frequently since it came out of England that it’s not answerable to the law.” Archbishop Crawley suggested the church use up all its assets to pay out the lawsuits, go bankrupt and then set up a new structure.


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