The now inevitable demise of the bellwether diocese of Cariboo will happen with little local fanfare on Dec. 31, instead of Oct. 15.
“It was impossible for us to do it by Oct. 15 because the talks with the government over the summer, failed. There is just too much work involved in the wind-up and not enough of us to do it by Oct. 15,” said Bishop Jim Cruickshank. “Also, we had high hopes that negotiations would be more favorable.”
After months of unanswered letters to the Department of Justice, the issue of ownership of church property has not been resolved, Bishop Cruickshank said in an interview. Therefore, the diocese will quietly go ahead with its wind-up plan. The issue is over whether the diocese owns property outright, therefore making it an asset that can be claimed for damages and legal costs, or whether property is held in trust for the diocese for parish ministry work.
The diocese wants to enter into alternative dispute resolution with the Department of Justice to resolve this issue, but by early September the government was not returning calls or answering letters.
Diocesan assets are now depleted. The diocese had a budget of $550,000 a year, and a legal bill of $350,000 from residential schools litigation as of last November.
Bishop Cruickshank said he expects it will take years to determine what happens to parish lands and buildings, so services and parish activities will continue as normally as possible under the umbrella of the Metropolitan of British Columbia and the Yukon, Archbishop David Crawley.
The diocesan office staff will lose one full-time administrative assistant and one part-time secretary.
Bishop Cruickshank, who is 65, said he expects to begin his retirement next year.
“We want to be very careful that no one sees this as a shift of our parishes over to the diocese of Kootenay,” Bishop Cruickshank said. “David (Crawley) will be overseeing them strictly in his role as Metropolitan.” (Archbishop Crawley is also the diocesan bishop of Kootenay.)
The bishop objected to the use of the word “bankruptcy” to describe what is happening to the diocese. “It is important for us to separate our assets from the oversight of personnel, programs and operating budget,” he said simply.
The closing date of the diocesan office in Kamloops was self-imposed by the diocese, and did not come from the federal government.
After years of frustrating attempts to negotiate with Ottawa, “We just cannot fight anymore – there comes a time when you have to stop,” the bishop said.
Cariboo is a mostly rural diocese with 4,700 Anglicans on parish rolls, in the British Columbia interior. The death knell was rung for the diocese in 1999 when it was found jointly liable with the national church for 60 per cent of an undisclosed award to a man abused at a residential school in Lytton, B.C. more than 31 years ago. Assets became rapidly depleted in the legal battle. Damages for an additional eight people have been awarded but the bishop declined to give the figures out.
Remarkably sanguine about the end of Cariboo, Bishop Cruickshank credited diocesan chancellor Bud Smith, former attorney general for the government of British Columbia, with the state of peaceful resignation permeating the diocese. “Bud went and visited every parish that asked for him, answering questions. It really helped everyone to remain calm.”
The diocese had its origins in gold fever in the mid-19th century, when thousands flocked to gold fields to seek their fortunes. Prospectors built camps along routes in the interior of central British Columbia. Anglican missionaries arrived from Victoria between 1860 and 1865 and built churches in Lillooet (St. Mary”s in 1861) and Barkerville (St. Saviour’s in 1870, which is still in operation). A party of clergy and laymen arrived in 1911 and eventually established a mission that reached as far north as Fort George (now Prince George). The diocese formally came into existence in 1914.