Dioceses give nod to accord

By on January 1, 2003

Bishop of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Donald Harvey (left), pictured at synod with the primate, Michael Peers, said his diocese supports the agreement in principle because "we want to stay a family."

_x00C_ Approval of the residential schools agreement with the federal government is moving swiftly through Canada’s 30 Anglican dioceses, but some have questions about the legal implications and some parishioners in dioceses that have not been sued are wondering why they are being asked to pay, too.

According to a survey of dioceses undertaken in early December by the Anglican Journal, four dioceses have ratified the agreement ? Keewatin, Kootenay, Edmonton and Caledonia ? each at diocesan council meetings shortly after the Nov. 20 announcement that the federal cabinet had approved the accord.

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The Anglican Church of Canada and the government agreed to cap the church’s liability in lawsuits concerning Indian residential schools at $25 million. Under the terms of the accord, General Synod, the church’s national office, will contribute $3 million to a fund that will pay settlements to proven claims and the dioceses are responsible for $22 million. The church is named in about 2,000 lawsuits alleging physical and sexual abuse in the schools.

In related news, in December the Presbyterian church announced an agreement with the federal government to pay $2.1 million to residential schools claims. The Presbyterian church is involved in the fewest cases, representing one to two per cent of the total or about 240 plaintiffs.

The Anglican agreement also stipulates that the dioceses would contribute in the same proportion as they now contribute annually to General Synod. Amounts, to be paid over five years, range from $4.7 million from the diocese of Toronto to a small amount, yet to be determined, from Cariboo, a British Columbia diocese that was forced to suspend operations due to the costs of residential schools litigation and potential settlements. It continues to exist as a legal entity, though its parishes are not organized in a diocesan structure.

Since the amounts involved are substantial, 11 dioceses have scheduled or are considering special synods to vote on the matter (see ?How and when’ box, p. 3). Some large dioceses such as Quebec and Moosonee, which is in northeastern Ontario and northwestern Quebec, find it prohibitively expensive to gather several hundred delegates together and are pursuing ratification at the executive council level.

The diocese of Calgary, recently the subject of a court decision that found the diocese not liable for residential schools damages, is concerned whether signing the agreement will leave it vulnerable to additional legal action.

“We’ve spent near half a million dollars to get a court decision that extricates us (from lawsuits),” said Archdeacon Barry Foster, Calgary’s executive officer. “We want to be able to play our part, but we don’t want to be in jeopardy.”

Archdeacon Foster and representatives of several other dioceses said they were looking forward to the results of a meeting in Toronto on Dec. 14 of diocesan chancellors, or lawyers, who were to meet to discuss the agreement and ask questions.

While support for the accord is high among diocesan bishops, many are concerned about how to meet their obligations and whether they might have to cut their support of General Synod. Some, however, said they could sell property or assets to meet their commitment.

Toronto has scheduled a special synod for Jan. 25, said Archdeacon Colin Johnson, executive assistant to Archbishop Terence Finlay. “Even spread over five years, ($4.7 million) is a big chunk,” he said.

Niagara, which is responsible for about $2 million, has scheduled a synod for Jan. 18 in Hamilton, Ont. Bishop Ralph Spence said holding a full synod is important since “we want everyone to have ownership of the decision.” In recent years, Niagara turned around its financial difficulties and concluded a successful fundraiser called Survive and Thrive, which raised $8.4 million for parish development. The thought of returning to donors concerns Bishop Spence. Fundraising for schools settlements will not be easy, he said. “There is not a huge roar of enthusiasm from the laity for raising money for this, however, two individuals came into my office to present me with $1,000 cheques for the fund. That’s the good news,” he said.

In the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, the diocesan council approved the agreement in principle and decided to form a ways and means committee “to see if we can do it,” said Bishop Donald Harvey. Diocesan council will meet again in January to take a final vote, he said. Bishop Harvey has heard some questioning why Newfoundland dioceses should contribute when they didn’t have any schools.

“We’ve felt that we didn’t have residential schools and it’s not part of who we are,” he commented. However, there is a larger obligation to the church as a whole, he continued. “We are a family and we want to stay a family,” he said.

The diocese of Huron is already conducting a fundraising campaign called Huron Graceworks, with a goal of $500,000, to meet the costs of defending itself against residential schools lawsuits. “We would fold (a new campaign) into Huron Graceworks and we are going to cross our fingers about the response,” said Bishop Bruce Howe. Huron’s amount is just over $2 million.

At the diocese of Athabasca, in northern Alberta, Bishop John Clarke said he “doesn’t foresee any great problems” meeting the diocese’s obligation of about $125,000. “It can’t come out of the offerings of the people, but we have property we can sell,” he said. Bishop Andrew Hutchison of Montreal, who is in the process of convincing several dwindling downtown parishes that they need to close their churches, said the diocese’s $500,000 obligation might push some of those plans along. “The sale of one downtown church would more than provide for this need,” he said.

The East Coast dioceses note that a downturn in the fishing economy isn’t going to make it easier for them. “It’s a huge challenge for our diocese,” said Bishop Fred Hiltz, whose diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island needs to raise $1.2 million.

The diocese of New Westminster, already facing a financial crunch as eight parishes have withheld assessments due to the same-sex blessings decision, will add this matter to a special synod already called for Jan. 18 to deal with finances.

Several dioceses, including Fredericton, said they would have to consider cutting their contributions to General Synod, which means budget pressures at the national office in Toronto.

“We are not a wealthy diocese, but we feel there is a sense of duty,” said Bishop William Hockin of Fredericton.

Author

  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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