Men [of God] at work in Canada

30 Mar 2001


LONDON, Ontario - Three London brothers have hit the wall of diplomatic immunity trying to sue the Vatican for childhood sexual abuse by a priest. An Ottawa law firm for Pope John Paul's Canadian representative is claiming diplomatic immunity, said John Swales, who with brothers Guy and Ed, have filed an $11.6 million civil lawsuit.

This leaves the Pope's recent plea for forgiveness for the sins of Roman Catholics, including against Jews, women and minorities, a little hollow, Swales said.

Swales, 41, and brothers Guy, 39, and Ed, 37, their sister and parents are plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought against Fr. Barry Glendinning, the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, the Roman Catholic Church and London District Catholic school board.

The trio was sexually abused by Glendinning while he was a professor of liturgy at London's St. Peter's Seminary. Glendinning, now retired in Toronto, pleaded guilty to 6 counts of gross indecency in 1974.

The brothers were part of a $32-million suit reported last year, but have since changed lawyers and filed a new statement of claim in Feb., naming the Catholic church along with the other defendants.

Allowing their names to be published for the first time, John Swales said he and his brothers will no longer be known as John Doe.

"They (the church) bank on that kind of behavior," he said. "I didn't do anything. I'm tired of hiding in shame." he said.

The statement of claim, which has to be proven in court, says the Vatican is responsible for the "maintenance of a uniform set of rules and principles which collectively define the ideology of the Roman Catholic religion" and for teaching and training priests those rules and principles.

It alleges from 1968 when John was 10, Guy 8, and Ed, 6, Glendinning repeatedly molested them. It ended when Glendinning was criminally charged in 1974. He was sent to an Edmonton theological college after treatment. He later confessed to sexual improprieties with boys at a nearby country parish there.

Under Canada's State Immunity Act, there's an exemption to diplomatic immunity in court proceedings related to personal injury, but it only applies to incidents after the act was passed in 1982. Free Press, 3/14/2000


OTTAWA - The national bodies of the Anglican and United Churches face the threat of financial disaster because of claims ranging into hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits filed by former students of church-run aboriginal residential schools. The Anglicans are considering what amounts to a declaration of bankruptcy, dismantling their national church organization and starting afresh sometime in the future. Church officials say the national body has inadequate liability insurance and only about $10-million in property and investments.

Fr. Jim Boyles, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, said, "If even a small portion of the claims are recognized, they will surpass the church's assets." The United Church of Canada, which operated fewer residential schools than the Anglicans and therefore faces fewer lawsuits, may be a richer target - depending upon a legal interpretation of how the church owns its property. Church officials who met last year with Jane Stewart, who was Indian affairs minister at the time, to ask for financial and political help quoted her as saying, "The churches have got to feel pain."

Boyles said, "I don't believe the Canadian public wants to see churches forced into bankruptcy," a statement that has been echoed by Rev. Bill Phipps, moderator of the United Church of Canada. The schools were the creation of federal government policy with the object of assimilating aboriginal peoples, and were contracted out to the churches to operate from the mid-1800s to the end of the 1960s. The first enabling legislation, enacted by the pre-Confederation United Province of Canada in 1857, was called the Gradual Civilization Act. An estimated 160,000 aboriginal children passed through the schools. The Presbyterians and Roman Catholics were also involved. However, only two schools were operated by the Presbyterians; their potential liability is not considered significant. Sixty per cent of the approximately 100 schools were Roman Catholic, but those were run by more than half a dozen separate religious groups, which may insulate the broader church from liability.

Ottawa as well is facing multimillion-dollar lawsuits. There are 5,800 individual claims against the federal government and the 4 churches. The vast majority of them, 3,900, are in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Not included in those numbers are 4 class-action suits, with well over 1,000 claimants, awaiting certification by the courts in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia. A class-action suit in British Columbia received court certification recently, sending chills along the churches' spines.

Children as young as 5 were taken away from their families and placed in the schools. They were ordered not to use their mother tongue and ordered to set aside their cultural values and practices. Stories of sexual and physical abuse began surfacing in the 1960s.

The claims against Ottawa and the churches fall into 3 categories: sexual and physical abuse and failure to provide the necessities of life; cultural deprivation or genocide; and a third type, initiated by the Key First Nation of Saskatchewan, claiming that the residential school "infected" the community by turning out alienated children who were unable to function culturally in a positive and appropriate way. So far, 260 cases have been resolved, most of them out of court. The damage awards - for the most part confidential under the terms of settlement - have ranged from about $15,000 to more than $100,000. According to western news media reports, the average settlement has been in the $100,000 range.

The churches' liability depends largely on their legal structure and the way they contracted with Ottawa to operate the schools. The Anglicans operated approximately 24 schools. The church is a confederation of 30 separately incorporated dioceses plus a separately incorporated national body. In most cases, it was the national body, through the Missionary Society of the Church in Canada, which contracted with the federal government to operate the schools. The national church thinks it is legally separate from the dioceses - meaning individual church buildings won't have to be sold to pay damages - but this hasn't been tested in court. As assets, the national church has only its headquarters building in downtown Toronto, worth $3-million, and $7-million in investments.

What hit the Anglicans like a shockwave was last summer's B.C. Supreme Court ruling on the residential school in Lytton. The judge found that former students had been physically and sexually abused - and that the abuse had been covered up in the school while an Anglican priest was principal. She assigned 60 per cent liability jointly to the Anglican Diocese ofCariboo and the national church and 40 per cent to the federal government.

Church lawyers across Canada are keenly watching the current B.C. Supreme Court case involving the Christian Brothers, who are arguing that their two Vancouver schools should not be sold to pay damages to former inmates of a Newfoundland orphanage run by the Roman Catholic order. The United Church is waiting to hear what damages will be assessed from a sexual-abuse case involving the residential school in Port Alberni, B.C.

Globe and Mail, 2/21/2000


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