World bewildered by residential schools crisis, Anglican official says

Published March 1, 2001

Anglicans in other parts of the world are bewildered by the residential schools crisis in Canada. Many also share in the effects of budget cuts the Canadian church has had to implement, according to Canon John Peterson, secretary general of the London-based Anglican Communion.

Mr. Peterson said in a meeting with General Synod staff and an interview with the Journal that the struggle “is having an enormous impact in the worldwide church. So often we feel isolated in our respective patches – parish, diocesan, and country,” he noted. “(The issue of residential schools) means our inter-dependence on each other is being asked anew.”

The shock is felt everywhere, he added. “You may not think that $5,000 Canadian is that much out of a budget, but when an African church gets a letter from the Canadian national office saying their allotment has been cut or dropped because of the residential schools situation, that is felt.”

Later, he said that differences in culture are adding to the confusion. “Others wonder how can an event from so long ago be holding the church hostage today? And that’s understandable.”

The Canadian primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, is extremely well known and loved beyond Canada, Mr. Peterson said. “People can see what this has done to him. It’s put a real strain on him. There is a sense of helplessness. They wonder how the Canadian government could ever let this happen, especially when the church was responding culturally to the times.”

Mr. Peterson is often called the “foreign minister” of the Anglican Communion, because of his role as bearer of tidings from one province to another within the church’s 36 provinces. “I interpret to provinces what other provinces are saying and doing. In terms of the Canadian church, I can help clear up misconceptions about what you are going through right now.”

Before becoming secretary general in 1994, Mr. Peterson was Dean of St. George’s College, Jerusalem. A U.S. citizen, he taught at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Chicago from 1968 to 1976, and then became canon theologian and administrative assistant to the bishop of Western Michigan until 1983.

He said his role also has a large administrative component: ensuring that meetings happen, resolutions are enacted, networking gets done and committees function.

His office supports the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth conference, the Anglican Consultative Committee and the Primates’ meetings.

Important as the residential schools issue is in other provinces, Mr. Peterson said that the AIDS crisis in Africa and the use of condoms to contain its spread, are by far the leading agenda items for the Anglican Communion.

“In Africa, everybody is talking about condoms. Within the Anglican church there, condoms are seen as a means by which lives can be saved.” In a country such as Zim-babwe, where male promiscuity is considered the norm and where sexuality is not openly discussed, the condom issue is divisive. It pits Anglican clergy, who support the use of condoms, against Roman Catholic clergy, who preach sexual abstinence to stop the spread of AIDS.

It is estimated that 60 per cent of the population of Zimbabwe is infected with AIDS. “These figures are staggering,” noted Mr. Peterson.

Care for AIDS orphans – what one award-winning documentary maker called “a new generation of the Lord of the Flies – no literacy, no parenting, little food, no schooling,” is a huge problem.

Families that have members with AIDS “can no longer take responsibility for their care because of their numbers, and so many of the adults are sick and dying themselves,” said Mr. Peterson.

World Vision says that Africa is home to 90 per cent of the world’s AIDS orphans. These people constitute a humanitarian crisis, he said.


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