Magazine article Anglican Journal

Church Law Upheld in Wrongful Dismissal Case

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Church Law Upheld in Wrongful Dismissal Case

Article excerpt

Church officials across the country are reading the ruling of a judge who dismissed the lawsuit of an Ottawa priest who sued the diocese for wrongful dismissal with an eye on their own canons to make sure they are fair.

Bishop Bob Townshend, suffragan of the Diocese of Huron said this case shows that all the dioceses must "take a look at the way our canons, constitutions and rules relate to the world around us.

"The church needs to wake up and make sure we know how we need to function in the society in which we live."

Mr. Justice Hector Soubliere of the Ontario Court of Justice dismissed an action by Rev. Arthur Brewer alleging that the diocese wrongfully dismissed him in 1992 after 30 years of serving in the diocese.

"The judge ruled that the church adhered to civil law, canon law, and the principles of natural justice with regard to Father Brewer," a Feb. 23 letter from the bishop's office to Ottawa churches said. "In other words, the diocese followed the laws of the land, its own rules, and acted with fairness and good faith toward Arthur Brewer."

Chris Riggs, vice-chancellor of the Diocese of Toronto and a labour lawyer, said the ruling means what is said at ordinations and inductions with respect to the offices of bishop and priest and the relationship between the church and its clergy has been affirmed by a secular court.

"The judge's decision confirms things we know already," said Mr. Riggs. "The diocese is obliged to follow its own canons and procedures, but be fair to priests."

The ruling supports the traditional understanding that a priest is appointed by the bishop to hold the office of incumbent in a parish, to share in the bishop's apostolic and pastoral authority there, and to receive the remuneration attached to the office.

Mr. Brewer, 63, claimed the diocese terminated his employment effective August 31, 1992, "without just cause and without providing reasonable notice or pay in lieu of such notice."

He asked for general damages for breach of contract and wrongful dismissal of $142,000, payment of 15 per cent of this amount for loss of pension contributions and other employment benefits, $18,407 in retirement allowance, and court costs.

Mr. Brewer's last permanent appointment-at St. Barnabas Parish in Ottawa-ended June 30, 1991.

The judge noted that a series of events-a heart attack in 1989, a break - in, a fire in the priest's office and the loss of many personal items, and finally a conflict with some of his parishioners - led Mr. …

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