OTTAWA, January 15, 2004 ( – The Supreme Court of Canada rules today on whether to make the Church liable to be sued. Such a decision could cripple charitable organizations within the Church in Canada, as well as the work of the Catholic Church as a whole, says a lawyer representing Canada’s Bishops Conference.

Lawyer William Sammon is representing the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in the case which will decide whether the Church can retain its legal immunity. In an interview with Canadian Catholic News (CCN) Monday, Sammon said “every Catholic organization, whether it’s corporate or unincorporated, whether it’s lay or religious will be subject to being sued as one corporate entity.” Sammon added that the ruling could “expose the assets of all of these charitable organizations to the endless liability involved in the Indian residential school litigation and other litigation.” 

In 2001, the Alberta Court of Appeal backed the Catholic Church’s long-held position that it cannot be sued for Indian residential school abuses because it is not a legal entity. Individual Catholic religious congregations can, however, still be held legally accountable.

Since 1615, when the first Franciscans and Jesuits arrived in New France, “the Church has by careful design avoided all attempts to submit itself to secular legal disciplines, including incorporation by royal charter, legislatures, or statutory recognition beyond the ecclesiastical sense,” the Alberta court said in its 2001 decision.  The Canadian Justice Department argues that abuse victims have not had their judgments satisfied, because individual ecclesial bodies involved in their suits did not have sufficient assets necessary to meet their claims.

The Church’s position has always been that the government should settle abuse claims with the individual institutions that operated the schools – which were on contract to the federal government – rather than with the Church as a whole. 

With files from the Western Catholic Reporter


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