Canadian order seeks bankruptcy protection after flood of lawsuits

 Thousands of law suits by native Canadians, seeking damages for alleged abuse in their schools, has forced a Catholic religious order in Canada to seek bankruptcy protection. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate of Manitoba, have sought protection under the federal Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. While no members of the order have been found guilty of any criminal acts of abuse concerning the schools, the costs of defending the cases is threatening to use up all the order's funds. The Oblate's Provincial, Fr James Fiori, told the Anglican Journal this week: "We deeply regret having to take this action, but we really have no choice. According to our auditor, at the current rate of spending, we will fully deplete our resources by 2006 and be unable to meet existing obligations if certain protective measures are not taken." The Oblates of Manitoba, formed in 1845 and based in Winnipeg, managed 12 residential schools in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northwest Ontario (out of a total of 80 schools in the system). The order is named in about 2,500 of the estimated 9,000 lawsuits that natives have filed, seeking damages for proven and alleged abuse in the schools. The Oblates have about $6.9 million in assets, but their potential liability has been estimated to be as much as $270 million, said Fr Fiori. The order is obliged to support its 58 priests, he added, 39 of whom are elderly and living in a Winnipeg retirement home, who turned over all income to the order and have no personal assets. The active priests in the order are doing youth and aboriginal work through Catholic parishes in Manitoba, he said, and the order sought a liability cap from the federal government, but was refused. It offered to contribute $200,000 to a healing fund for aboriginals, but that was also rejected. The Anglican diocese of Caribou went bankrupt recently after a flood of court cases. The Anglican diocese of Qu'Appell is also said to be in 'deep trouble'.

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