Anglican diocese ponders uncertain future, as government lawsuits drain assets

Quesnel, Friday, October 13, 2000

What may be the final synod, or annual meeting, of the Diocese of Cariboo began this afternoon in the usual way, with worship.

Approximately 85 members of the diocese represent its 17 parishes, which stretch along the Fraser and Thompson Rivers from Merritt to Prince George. Over the next three days, gathered in a community recreation center in Quesnel, they will consider the unprecedented possibility of winding up the diocese as a result of lawsuits arising from abuse that took place more than 30 years ago at St. Georges School, Lytton.

St. Georges was founded by the New England Company, an independent mission agency based in England, and eventually sold to the Government of Canada. Under the terms of the sale, the Bishop of Cariboo could nominate an Anglican priest as principal. The federal department of Indian Affairs had authority to accept or reject this nomination. The government operated St. Georges until the early 1970s.

Derek Clarke, a former dormitory supervisor at St. Georges, has been convicted of sexual abuse. Following the conviction a number of Clarkes victims launched lawsuits for damages against the Government of Canada and, in some cases, against the church.

Only one case has come to judgment, and it is now under appeal. The Diocese of Cariboo is a defendant in an additional 14 cases. Twelve of these cases are third-party actions brought by the federal Department of Justice. According to the audited financial statements to be presented to this synod, Cariboos legal fees in respect of these actions totaled approximately $350,000 from 1998 until August 2, 2000 (the date of the Auditors report).

The diocese has informed the court that it can no longer afford to be represented in the continuing legal actions.

During the opening session of the synod, Indigenous members of the diocese enacted a story, jumping off the cradle board,representing the way in which Indigenous peoples are restricted by poverty and cultural loss. The play generated a deep emotional response as all members of the synod eventually became drawn into freeing a young person who had been symbolically bound.

Earlier, in the opening worship, Archbishop David Crawley drew a parallel between the Diocese of Cariboo, facing possible bankruptcy, and the biblical story of the people of Israel, crossing the wilderness. “Crossing the wilderness is a common theme in the Old Testament,” Archbishop Crawley said. It was in the wilderness that the people had their most direct encounters with God.

“If it is true that our church is entering a wilderness, will we also encounter God? The answer depends on whether we make same mistake the Israelites made,” Archbishop Crawley said. “If we rebuild the temple for our own purposes, and turn it into a kind of club, then we will not meet God and all our building will be in vain. But if we understand that we are going through the wilderness in order to rebuild ourselves as a place of service, a center of reconciliation, then we will meet God.”

This evening the diocesan Chancellor, Bud Smith, is scheduled to give the synod an overview of its legal and financial situation. He will present three resolutions (which will be discussed beginning Saturday morning) intended to give the bishop and diocesan executive the ability to respond to changing circumstances over the next few months.

One authorizes the bishop and executive to formally wind up the affairs of the diocese during the next 12 months. Another would allow the diocese to negotiate a settlement with the Government of Canada “provided that any such proposal must be sustainable from resources within the Diocese of Cariboo or its successor and must be of direct benefit to victims of abuse at St. George’s Residential School.”

The third authorizes the use of an arbitration procedure between the diocese and the government to determine whether parish buildings are owned by the diocese or held in trust for the parish. Government lawyers have claimed that parish buildings are assets of the diocese and should be turned over to the government.

The Right Reverend James Cruickshank, bishop of the diocese since 1992, will give “the bishop’s charge” Saturday morning. The synod continues through Sunday afternoon.

For further information contact:
Rt. Rev. Jim Cruickshank, Bishop of Cariboo

Most Rev. David Crawley,
Archbishop of Kootenay and Metropolitan of British Columbia and the

During the Synod, Bishop Cruickshank and Archbishop Crawley may be
reached care of Doug Tindal, 416-540-3653

Interested in keeping up-to-date on news, opinion, events and resources from the Anglican Church of Canada? Sign up for our email alerts .