Catholic Church spent millions meant for residential school survivors privately: Report

By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

(ANNews) – The Roman Catholic Church has spent millions of dollars intended to compensate residential school survivors on lawyers, administration and private fundraising, according to documents obtained by CBC News

The other churches involved in the landmark 2005 residential schools compensation agreement — Anglican, United and Presbyterian — paid the full amount of compensation owed without any issues. 

One of the documents, a 53-page factum from the federal government for a 2015 court case, notes “a large number of serious accounting discrepancies that are alarming to Canada” from the Catholic Church. 

The Catholic Church never had to account for these discrepancies, because Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Neil Gabrielson closed the case after approving a buyout from the Church on the eve of the 2015 hearing. 

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former Saskatchewan provincial court judge and director of the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre in Vancouver, called the Church’s conduct “unbelievably, absolutely gross” and “completely wrong” after the CBC provided her with the documents. 

“How could anyone do something like this?” she asked rhetorically. 

A representative of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) told the CBC that the CCCB was not a party to the agreement, as individual dioceses and orders established an arms-length corporation to oversee the deal. 

The spokesperson said Church officials “are committed to continue engaging and listening”, citing the “historic delegation” that is travelling to the Vatican in December to request the Pope visit Canada to apologize for the Church’s leading role in operating residential schools. 

As part of the initial settlement, the Church was required to pay $29 million with strict criteria for its use. 

Of that $29 million, the Church paid $2.7 million to lawyers for unrelated legal representation, $2.3 million in administration costs that no other church that was party to the agreement required, $1.6 million in donations to unapproved projects with a First Nations component, for which no invoices or further explanation was provided, and an $8-million deduction for compensation paid prior to the 2005 agreement. 

The latter expense is permissible under the agreement, but the Church hasn’t mentioned it publicly, nor did it provide annual financial statements until 2012, as required.

During the same time period, the Church spent in excess of $300 million on church renovations.  

According to a Globe and Mail investigation, the Catholic Church had net assets of at least $4.1 billion in 2019 and gave out $886 million in donations to 3,446 to Catholic Church-affiliated charities that year. 

This makes the Church by far the largest charitable contributor in the country, outspending second-place World Vision by $669 million.

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