by Bob Bettson
What is potentially a landmark agreement by the Anglican Church of Canada with the Canadian government to share the costs of lawsuits brought by natives claiming abuse at residential schools faces some significant hurdles before it can be implemented.
The out-of-court agreement between the federal government is being watched by the Canada’s Roman Catholic, United and Presbyterian churches, all also named in litigation. The Anglicans, named in 18 percent of the suits, faced the greatest financial urgency to get a deal.
The deal was signed in November between representatives of a negotiating team for the Anglican Church’s general synod and federal government negotiators. It was approved by the federal cabinet. Thirty dioceses across the country must ratify it by the end of January.
A key meeting, held in Toronto in mid-December involving chancellors of all the dioceses, gave no clear indication that ratification is certain. When a representative of the Diocese of Calgary asked what would happen if a diocese refused to sign the agreement, the answer was that this would severely impair the chances for moving forward.
An October court decision in Alberta, which removed both the national church and the Dioceses of Calgary and Athabasca as defendants from all lawsuits in that province relating to claims between 1919 and 1969, raised questions regarding the national agreement.
The national agreement only covers lawsuits involving physical and sexual abuse. Other lawsuits relate to cultural and linguistic abuse which Canadian courts have never ruled on.
The Venerable James Boyles, general secretary of the church, said the agreement with the federal government, once ratified would enable the church to deal at once with liability at all levels. It would put a cap of (US) $16 million on the church portion—pegged at 30 percent—of settlements reached with native claimants. The federal government would pay the rest.
The money for the settlements will have to be raised primarily from the dioceses over the next five years, especially the ones with the greatest resources. The Most Reverend Michael Peers, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said the deal would not have been signed if the church didn’t have some assurance the money could be raised.
There are now more than 5,000 lawsuits involving 12,000 plaintiffs outstanding. The Anglican Church of Canada has already seen one small diocese, Cariboo, disband, and others are in severe financial difficulty because of the cost of fighting litigation. The national church itself has made contingency plans for bankruptcy.
Peace Letters Circulate
As the prospect of war with Iraq loomed larger, several theological schools issued open letters seeking peace.
At Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the idea for such a letter occurred at a faculty meeting on September 7. The letter was distributed the next Wednesday. “There were several symbolic factors at work,” said Margaret Guider, O.F.M., associate professor of religion and society. “It was the anniversary of 9/11. Congress was about to vote on war powers. And we wanted to distribute it to students after our opening liturgy.” Not all of the faculty, staff, or administration had time to sign the letter. Others—including people not connected with the school—asked to sign on later, but faculty decided that having released the letter once, they didn’t need to do it again.
Weston’s fellows at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, however, decided to adopt the same statement and distribute it on their side of the country.
Jesuit/Berkeley is a member school of the Graduate Theological Union. The presidents of that school have also issued a letter opposing war with Iraq. They addressed it to “the leaders of our religious communities” and sent it to alumni. William McKinney, president of the Pacific School of Religion, told the Oakland Tribune that it was the first time the school’s presidents have worked out a joint statement on such a public issue. The core of the GTU letter is the observation that just war theory insists both on adequate grounds for entering into conflict and for assurances that the war can be waged appropriately, and the statement that, “we do not think the American people have heard enough in detail to argue that war is the only solution for dealing with the threat that Iraq may pose to other nations.” It concluded by offering the resources of the GTU schools to those holding events aimed at informing decisions: the closing sentence was, “As our country deliberates, may it be guided by an informed and reflective citizenry rather than an intimidated or indifferent people.”
The faculty of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, a school rooted in the peace tradition and which has a peace studies program, approved a short letter at their meeting on October 9. It declared, “If there is a war with Iraq, we will lament and oppose it.”
Episcopal Deal Falters
An agreement to move the national headquarters of the Episcopal Church onto the grounds of the General Theological Seminary in New York as part of a $52 million renovation of the campus, which is in the Chelsea section of Manhattan’s West Side, has apparently collapsed.
Although the church’s presiding bishop, the Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold, endorsed the project last spring and the executive council, the church’s interim legislative body, directed the staff in October to prepare a binding letter of agreement with the seminary, Griswold disclosed reservations in December that planners said would likely make a final agreement impossible.
The Very Reverend Ward Ewing, General’s dean and president, said the seminary would continue to pursue a scaled-back version of the project, a significant part of which involves converting three of the seminary’s historic buildings along Tenth Avenue into a sixty-six-room conference center. “Our new partner [in the project] is called debt,” he wisecracked.
Ewing said Griswold’s disclosure of his second thoughts about the collaboration came as something of a bombshell to the seminary, especially since it was the national church that proposed moving Episcopal headquarters to the General campus from its present location on Second Avenue when conversations were initiated in 1998. “There is no question what the will of the executive council is on this matter,” the dean added, pointing to the overwhelmingly favorable vote by which the council endorsed the project in October.
The presiding bishop explained to council members in his December letter that the press of other business and limited time had hampered his efforts in October to make clear that he and the senior staff of church headquarters continued to have serious reservations about the project. He said he was particularly concerned the distinct missions of the seminary and the headquarters might become confused if they were at the same location. He also said that changing economic conditions made less attractive the financial possibilities created by the possible move.
Changes at the Top
The Most Reverend Richard G. Lennon has been appointed apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Boston by Pope John Paul II, following the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law. Lennon resigned as president and rector of St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts, the archdiocesan seminary, following his appointment.
The Reverend Miles Jerome Jones, former dean of the School of Theology at Virginia Union University, now the Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology, died in late December of cancer. Jones resigned as dean in 1972 upon becoming the first African-American chairman of the school board in Richmond, Virginia; at the time of his death he had just completed teaching fall semester courses in his thirty-seventh year on the Virginia Union faculty.
Dr. Milton J. Coalter has been named acting president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, following the surprise resignation of Dr. John M. Mulder. Coalter is vice president for library and information technology and came to the seminary in 1985 as director of the Ernest Miller White Library. Mulder, who became president in 1981 at the age of 35, resigned both the presidency and his tenured professorship on in October after suffering several small strokes.
Dr. Christopher J. L. Lind will become director of the Toronto School of Theology on July 1, 2003, succeeding the Reverend David Neelands who is now dean of the Faculty of Divinity at Trinity College, Toronto. Lind, who is president of St. Andrew’s College, Saskatoon and St. Stephen’s College, Edmonton, served eighteen years on the St. Andrews faculty and was the first Anglican to serve as president of a United Church theological school.
John K. Menzies, chief of mission at the United States office in Kosovo, Bosnia, has been appointed president of Graceland University, Lamoni, Iowa. A graduate of Graceland, Menzies founded the American University of Bulgaria in 1991. He succeeds Dr. David L. Clinefelter who resigned.
Dr. Robert M. Franklin resigned the presidency of the Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta, Georgia, effective December 31, 2002 following injuries suffered while travelling on sabbatical in India. Dr. Oliver J. Haney Jr., continues as acting president while a successor is being sought.
Dr. Jon Olhauser, vice president of marketing and enrollment management at Tyndale Seminary,Toronto, has been appointed president of Prairie Bible Institute, Three Hills, Alberta. He succeeds the late Rick Down who died of cancer in July.