Staff Education Funds Termed Safe: Money Held in Trust, Lawyers Say

Article excerpt

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. …