Canada's Anglican bishops have appealed to Prime Minister Jean Chretien to intervene in stalled negotiations over compensation for people who claim they were abused in Indian residential schools run by the church on behalf of the government.

More than 7,000 people have brought lawsuits against the federal government, the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) and several other Canadian churches, alleging they were physically or sexually abused by school staff.

The Anglican Church administered 26 government residential schools for indigenous children in various parts of Canada from 1820 until 1969.

Ignoring recommendations from church and other groups, Canada's Department of Justice is seeking to resolve these lawsuits in court. Indigenous, religious and legal groups have urged the government to find a way to settle these claims outside the courts.

In a letter delivered to Prime Minister Chretien on May 2, the Anglican House of Bishops expressed the bishops' "dismay" at the ponderous process of resolving the claims. "Those who were abused still wait for justice and the litigation is rapidly draining [our] resources," the letter states. "We assure you of our ongoing commitment to our ministry of healing among the indigenous peoples of Canada. We will continue this work as long as we are able, but it is now in jeopardy."

Archbishop David Crawley of the Diocese of Kootenay in British Columbia, one of the primary drafters of the statement said, "Between our national church and the eight dioceses in litigation, we have spent about $5 million [US$3.25 million] on litigation. More than 99 percent has gone to the legal process, and less than one percent has gone to actual payments to a plaintiff.

"We expect by the end of this year that assets ...

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