A coalition of churches in Canada is urging the government to agree to mediation to resolve thousands of lawsuits. The lawsuits allege sexual, physical, and cultural abuse at church-run native residential schools more than three decades ago.
In a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray, the Ecumenical Group on Residential Schools appealed for a mediator to help find an agreement by March 31.
The churches say that victims cannot receive compensation until the government and churches agree on how to divide financial liability. Several Canadian denominations ran residential schools for the government starting in 1820. The last such school closed in 1969.
The lawsuits threaten to financially cripple several Canadian church bodies. One western Anglican diocese has gone out of business (CT, Jan. 7, p. 20).
"We had hoped that our request for a mediator would be immediately agreed to because it seems like such a reasonable way to move forward, but thus far there has been no response from Ottawa," said Marie Zarowny. She chairs a Catholic task force representing religious orders that ran 65 percent of the schools.
Church representatives resent federal government lawyers for routinely drawing them into lawsuits. Catholic, Anglican, and United Church officials have been negotiating with the federal government for a year regarding responsibility and compensation.
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Previous Christianity Today articles about the lawsuits include:
Legal Bills Sink Canadian DioceseChurch, government still wrestling over ending lawsuits. (Jan. 4, 2002)
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.)
The University of Saskatchewan's Native Law Center has a massive bibliography of articles and resources about the suits.
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