Magazine article Anglican Journal

Ottawa Moves to Resolve Crisis: (Herb) Gray Says Bankrupt Churches Not Desirable

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Ottawa Moves to Resolve Crisis: (Herb) Gray Says Bankrupt Churches Not Desirable

Article excerpt

Prime Minister Jean Chretien wants to solve the Native residential schools crisis in a way that does not involve bankrupting churches, says Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray.

Mr. Chretien has directed Mr. Gray to discuss with church leaders possible solutions to the crisis -- the most positive sign yet for the churches since lawsuits began to be filed, the bulk of them in the past four years.

"The Prime Minister considers it important to work actively to try to resolve the matter ... It is not the intent or desire of the federal government to force church organizations into bankruptcy," said Mr. Gray in an interview with the Anglican Journal. "We do recognize the role the churches play as social institutions in our society," he added.

Mr. Gray is one of Canada's senior politicians and a Liberal Party elder statesman. Since first elected to the Commons in 1962, he has held about half a dozen Cabinet portfolios and served briefly as Leader of the Opposition after the resignation of John Turner.

Archdeacon Jim Boyles, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, along with representatives of the Roman Catholic, United, and Presbyterian churches, held two meetings with Mr. Gray this fall.

"I am hopeful," Mr. Boyles said in an interview.

Participants are discussing whether Justice Department officials will stop bringing churches in as defendants in suits filed by former students alleging abuse at the schools, but there has been "no commitment on that regard," said Brian Thorpe, senior adviser with the residential schools steering committee of the United Church of Canada.

Mr. Gray said that in about three-quarters of the cases filed, churches were named as defendants by the plaintiffs, but churches have been saying they haven't been named in most cases but have been joined to civil suits as third parties by the government.

Mr. Boyles has said that Ottawa, not Native litigants, is forcing General Synod into bankruptcy.

"We are focusing on finding a solution outside litigation ... there are a whole lot of things being discussed," said Mr. Gray in the interview with the Journal. He declined to give specifics.

However, Justice Department officials in British Columbia have made a proposal to the Diocese of Cariboo, which has said it is nearly out of operating resources due to lawsuits and a judgment over proven sexual abuse at a residential school in Lytton. At a recent diocesan synod, Cariboo directed its bishop and executive council to wrap up the diocese's affairs in the next year.

The Lytton judgment last year found the Anglican church 60 per cent liable and the government 40 per cent liable in that case and ordered the defendants to pay damages. The precise amount of damages has not been made public. …

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