A General Synod benefit fund that reimburses clergy and lay employees for educational costs is not vulnerable to residential schools litigation, according to legal opinions obtained by the pension committee, which administers the fund.
Called the Continuing Education Plan, the 30-year-old fund disbursed $732,000 from January to September, 2001. It reimburses plan members for courses, study while on sabbatical, computers and books.
“We’ve had three legal opinions that all confirm these funds are trust funds held on behalf of plan members; (they are) not funds of General Synod,” pensions director Jenny Mason told a staff meeting in mid-November.
Ms. Mason said, in an interview, that she had received several calls from clergy after Archdeacon Barry Foster posted a message on the diocese of Calgary’s Web site advising clergy that the plan’s funds might be at risk.
(General Synod and several dioceses are being sued by hundreds of Canadian natives alleging abuse in a now-defunct residential school system. General Synod has said it could face bankruptcy.)
“It would be prudent, in my opinion, to withdraw your funds to cover any eligible expense,” wrote Archdeacon Foster on the Web site. Later, in an interview, he said, “we have quite a number of clergy with $1,000 to $2,000 in the plan and even $5,000 to $6,000. They might be saving (to study) for a degree or a trip to Canterbury. I don’t want to panic anyone, but some have stepped up their plans.”
There has not been a run on applications, but they are coming into the diocesan office at the rate of one or two a week, a slight increase from past experience, he said.
Ms. Mason said Archdeacon Foster’s action concerned her. “I don’t think it was the right way to do it. It was his interpretation,” she told the staff meeting.
The plan’s assets, which totalled $4.2 million as of June 30, 2001, are currently invested in an equity/fixed income mutual fund. The plan is a mandatory benefit for all clergy and lay employees of the Anglican Church of Canada, including those at the national office in Toronto.
Under the terms of the fund, $600 per employee was deposited in 2001. Most dioceses and General Synod contribute 75 per cent of the amount, with the employee contributing 25 per cent through payroll deduction. Members receive a yearly statement.
Although it is administered by the pension fund committee, the plan’s funds aren’t part of the pension fund (which currently stands at $436 million).