Church on Hook for Abuse: Diocese May Fold in Wake of Ruling

Article excerpt

One Canadian Anglican diocese may declare bankruptcy and a second is facing "grave" financial difficulties as lawsuits over Native residential schools progress through the courts.

The Diocese of Cariboo is considering declaring bankruptcy after a judge recently found it negligent in the sexual abuse of a boy at a Lytton, B.C., residential school nearly 30 years ago. Floyd Mowatt sued the diocese, the national church and the federal government for damages as a result.

Justice Janice Dillon of the B.C. Supreme Court found all three parties jointly liable for undisclosed damages. The church is responsible for at least 60 per cent of the award believed to be about $200,000. That figure does not include legal and court costs.

The Anglican Church still faces more than 200 lawsuits involving hundreds of plaintiffs. The Diocese of Qu'Appelle in southern Saskatchewan owes $134,000 in legal bills and will cash in some available trust funds to pay them off.

The Lytton judgment, handed down Aug. 30, presents a damning indictment of the church's role in allowing a man with no child-care experience free and unsupervised rein of the children in his care at St. George's Indian Residential School. It is the first decision involving residential schools and the Anglican church. (See related story below for excerpts from the judgment.)

The church had not decided by press time whether to appeal the decision that held the federal government responsible for only 40 per cent of the damages. However, General Secretary Jim Boyles says the church will pay its share of the compensation now.

"The plaintiff has suffered abuse," Mr. Boyles said in an interview. "The court has validated the claim and it's just and fair that he receive the compensation."

The amount of damages had been decided before the trial began in May 1998 but the parties agreed to keep the amount confidential.

The question before the court was not whether there was wrongdoing but who the employer was and who should pay the damages. Derek Clarke, a residence supervisor at St. George's, sexually abused the plaintiff during the years 1970 to 1973. Mr. Clarke had already been found guilty of abusing several boys in a criminal trial and is in jail.

The church argued in court that the federal government owned and administered the residence during the years the plaintiff was abused. But Justice Dillon said that although the government took over ownership of the residence, the church continued to run the day-to-day operations and hire staff.

Bishop James Cruickshank of Cariboo -- who has been advised not to speak to the media since several cases involving the same child-care worker are pending -- wrote a pastoral letter to all parishes. …