Magazine article Anglican Journal

Bishops Lobby Government Ministers: Some Report Sympathetic Reaction

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Bishops Lobby Government Ministers: Some Report Sympathetic Reaction

Article excerpt

Primate Michael Peers' late-May pastoral letter about the Native residential-schools crisis has produced a wide range of reactions among clergy and laity across Canada, diocesan bishops reported.

The most common emotion has been concern for victims of abuse and for the survival of the national church and several dioceses that are facing lawsuits flied by former students, they said. In a few dioceses, the letter didn't make much impact, at least initially. In one or two others, a sense of distance from national church caused a certain amount of apathy and in a couple there were expressions of resentment and hostility toward the lawsuit process and toward those who have filed suits.

Bishops in 22 of the 30 dioceses (some were away or didn't return calls) were interviewed by the Journal. Most also reported that they had successfully contacted members of the federal cabinet and MPs in their area. At their spring meeting this year, the bishops were urged to discuss the church's plight with federal MPs, who are exploring ways to resolve the crisis.

Bishop Bruce Stavert, of the Diocese of Quebec, said Prime Minister Jean Chretien's riding is in his area. "I had a conversation with his chief of staff and he said, `We are very aware we need to try to find some new ways of approaching (the situation),'" the bishop said.

Bishop Andrew Hutchison of Montreal contacted several cabinet ministers, Bishop Arthur Peters of Nova Scotia and P.E.I. spoke with Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay, Bishop Ralph Spence of Niagara said he received a "sympathetic hearing" from Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage. Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster said Hedy Fry, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Secretary of State for Status of Women, told him that cabinet is looking for a way to resolve these issues without forcing aboriginal people into an adversarial process and without forcing churches into bankruptcy.

Bishop Gordon Beardy, of Keewatin, a Cree who attended residential school, said Minister of Indian Affairs Robert Nault told him the government's responsibility is also to protect taxpayers. "What I stressed was the long term. If the church is gone, we're no longer existing to help," Bishop Beardy said.

No bishops reported receiving any kind of commitments from the legislators, but none expected any. The exercise was aimed at making influential members of Parliament aware of the situation through personal contacts, bishops noted.

Bishops reported that many people felt the primate's letter was informative and appreciated the message of hope for the church and healing for abuse survivors. "People have said it is important to acknowledge the wrongdoing, that we have to be honest about ourselves," said Bishop Ingham of New Westminster. "People are genuinely appalled that in an Anglican setting, people were harmed," said Bishop Spence of Niagara.

In some dioceses, the primate's letter was a wake-up call, but clergy and laity in dioceses that are the subjects of lawsuits are very aware of the crisis, bishops said. "In this diocese, it hits close to home," said Bishop Duncan Wallace of Qu'Appelle, adding that the diocese is facing claims from about 350 people. The Diocese of Cariboo, currently on the shakiest financial ground (See related story on page 3), is facing bankruptcy, but Bishop James Cruickshank said there was also concern about the survival of the national church. "Our diocese has benefited immensely from the national church. …

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