Last Updated: Wednesday - 01/05/2011
November 26, 2001
Deputy PM takes on the Church
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray has publicly acknowledged for the first time that the government considers the Catholic Church as a whole liable for abuses that occurred in Indian residential schools run by Catholic organizations.
"While courts have not ruled decisively on whether certain churches are one entity for bearing liability for abuse, all their segments are part of one faith community," said Gray.
He made the comment in a letter to the editor Nov. 19 in response to a story that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen a week earlier.
In it, Sister Marie Zarowny, chair of the Catholic Organizations' Task Group on Indian Residential Schools (COTG), said negotiations with the government had stalled because Gray wanted the whole Church to pay for the actions of a few individuals in a handful of religious organizations.
Zarowny also told CCN in an interview Nov. 8 that the government "consistently is blurring, pretending that the corporate distinctions do not exist" despite court rulings that the Church is not a single legal entity but is made up of several individual corporations.
On Aug. 28, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that the Catholic Church cannot be sued for residential school abuses because it is not a legal entity.
"We view 'The Roman Catholic Church' in Alberta law as no more than an ecclesiastical entity incapable of being sued," said the court in upholding the appeal in a test case involving the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan.
But Gray wrote, "Sister Zarowny herself, confirmed in the (Citizen) story that 'the churches as a whole offered to contribute toward reconciliation and healing of relationships with native people.'"
He asked, "Why then, is the Catholic Church willing to come together 'as a whole' in some situations and not for the justified financial compensation of native abuse victims?"
Zarowny told CCN the corporations that were legally responsible "will pay up to their capacity to pay."
But she added that the dozen or so Catholic corporations involved in running the schools on contract to the federal government could never pay the more than $240 million that may be required.
Catholic religious orders operated more than half of the over 100 Indian residential schools.
On Oct. 29, the government offered to pay 70 per cent of the cost of abuse claims reached out of court with former students and said the churches could pay the remainder.
About 8,500 former students of the schools have launched more than 4,500 lawsuits to date.
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