Facing the equivalent of US$63,000 in monthly legal bills, the Cariboo (Anglican) Diocese in British Columbia was expected to close its doors on December 31. Its bishop, James Cruikshank, was to retire the same day and will not be replaced.

The diocese is Canada's most visible loss associated with thousands of suits charging sexual abuse. In the fall, the national government made an offer to shoulder 70 percent of out-of-court legal settlements for physical and sexual abuse claims at church-run residential schools for natives.

"All the government has talked about is money, which is the one thing the churches don't have," says Bud Smith, Cariboo's chancellor. "We have limited ways of raising it."

The government's offer came too late to help Cariboo. The small diocese, based in the town of Kamloops, has only 11 full-time clergy and 5,000 parishioners in 45 congregations.

More than 30 years ago at Cariboo's St. George Indian Residential School in Lytton, British Columbia, a staff member sexually assaulted four male students. In 1999, a judge approved a settlement of $126,000 to each of the four victims (all dollar figures in this article are U.S. equivalent). The judge ruled that the liability should be shared, with the government taking 40 percent and the church taking 60 percent. The diocese will remain a legal entity while the case is appealed.

Some experts estimate it may cost $1.26 billion to settle suits from more than 8,000 plaintiffs. Canadian church representatives say that a 30 percent liability, as suggested by the government, could cause more than $300 million in church payments.

Church leaders want the national government to cap liability for churches at a fixed amount.

Anglican Archdeacon Jim Boyles, chairman of the ecumenical team negotiating with the government, says his church has given $472,500 to a healing and reconciliation fund to help resolve abuse cases outside the court system.

"We would consider a direct appeal to our members for donations to the healing fund," Boyles says, "but church members won't contribute to open-ended litigation costs."

The national government's latest offer would apply only to out-of-court settlements. Plaintiffs would not be able to claim loss of language and culture. Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray has taken the lead in negotiations with churches. He says churches across the country could easily raise the money needed for settlements by asking for special donations.

David Crawley, Anglican metropolitan of British Columbia and the Yukon, will offer episcopal oversight to the churches of Cariboo. These churches hope to keep their modest properties and continue their ministries.

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Related Elsewhere

Recent mainstream media coverage includes:

Lawsuit bankrupts first dioceseNational Post (December 22, 2001)
Canadian churches may face insolvencyThe Washington Post (December 6, 2001)
Churches want high ground without making the climb — Ian Hunter, Globetechnology.com (December 5, 2001)
Pay now for schools' abuse: NativesThe Province (November 12, 2001)
Catholics forced to pay twice for native lawsuitThe Ottawa Citizen (November 12, 2001)
Offer offends lawyersRegina Leader Post (October 31, 2001)
Canada to settle Indian abuse cases — BBC (October 30, 2001)

More articles and resources on the residential schools cases are available from Yahoo's full coverage areas on first nations and religion.

Previous Christianity Today articles about the lawsuits include:

Government Decision To Settle Residential School Cases Upsets ChurchesReligious leaders complain that the settlement proposal was made without their input. (November 20, 2001)
Canadian Anglicans Nearly BrokeA judicial ruling limiting damages seems to be their last hope. (Sept. 4, 2001)
Canadian Politician Works With Churches to Resolve Abuse CrisisDeputy prime minister meets with church leaders to resolve court cases. (June 6, 2001)
As Canadian Synod Faces Bankruptcy, Bishops Plead with GovernmentAnglican bishops appeal to Prime Minister for intervention (June 6, 2001)
Canada's Anglican Church Considers Possibility of Financial RuinCourt costs, settlements surrounding abuse allegations could mean bankruptcy (Jan. 31, 2001)
Legal Costs Shut Down Canadian DioceseAbuse claims cause the Anglican Diocese of Cariboo to disband (Oct. 19, 2000)
Lawsuits Force Anglicans to Cut Staff and ProgramsAbuse allegations cause the Anglican Church of Canada to scale back church support and overseas ministries. (Aug. 25, 2000)

The Anglican Church of Canada has an extensive area of its site devoted to the residential schools controversy.

For continuing coverage of this issue, see the Anglican Journal, the ACC's monthly newspaper (its October 1999 issue provides especially good background information on the abuse allegations and their implications for the church.)

Classical Anglican Net News is a Weblog of sorts from a conservative Canadian Anglican perspective. It also has a special report area on the General Synod.

See also the ACC News page and the Anglican News Service.

The University of Saskatchewan's Native Law Center has a massive bibliography of articles and resources about the suits.

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