Bishop Gordon Beardy and members of the Diocese of Keewatin vigorously deny there is anything improper in the expenditure of funds raised by the bishop’s recent Sacred Walk for Healing on flying lessons for a victim of abuse. The Winnipeg Free Press printed a front-page story in March alleging that Bishop Beardy had made the grant to a relative without approval.
The newspaper further claimed walk proceeds should have gone towards counselling, community workshops and teaching clergy how to help victims of abuse. But Bishop Beardy says the newspaper has it all wrong. That the victim is a second cousin of his is hardly remarkable. Many people in the area are related, albeit not closely, and two of the three members of the diocesan committee to administer the $50,000 proceeds of the walk are named Beardy, although neither is a close relative of the bishop. Bishop Beardy says the young man who took flying lessons in Thunder Bay was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of former Anglican priest Ralph Rowe, sentenced to six years in prison in 1994 for abusing two dozen boys in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. Bishop Beardy knew the young man, although he was from another community. The bishop said he had suffered greatly and needed the church’s help, so he asked what he could do. The young man said he had always wanted to train to be a pilot, so Bishop Beardy promised to see if he could use money from the healing fund to help out.
After checking with other diocesan officials, the bishop granted $5,000, then found matching support from the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. Bishop Beardy said the grant is in keeping with the purpose of the walk, to help victims of abuse in any way possible. “I wanted to build his self-confidence. … I thought if I could put a spark back in his life, and he could become a pilot, he would regain his self-respect.”
Bishop Beardy told the Journal the criticism from the Free Press article has hurt him. “I am feeling the hurt, and I had to take some time to be with my family, which has to come first.” The bishop said the walk’s purpose, to help raise the profile of abuse victims and help them, remains a top priority.
Rev. Susan Barclay, treasurer of the Diocese of Keewatin and a former accountant, says there has been no financial impropriety in disbursing healing walk money. She said the bishop consulted others before making the grant, which was awarded before a three-person committee was officially set up in February.
The use of funds for flying lessons, although it might seem exotic to those in the South, is very practical job training for northerners, Ms. Barclay said. If the bishop had to restrict grants to those people he was not related to in any way, it would cut off many deserving recipients, including a number of abuse victims, she said. “You have to remember almost everyone is related up here.”
Support from within the diocese for the bishop had been “overwhelming,” Barclay said. There is clear understanding that the bishop had acted properly and is fully accountable. She said she spent considerable time with the Free Press reporter before the story was printed, but said the diocese’s efforts to set the record straight were not evident in the story.
The apparent source of the story was Ron Risley, another Rowe victim and son of a retired Anglican priest. He is quoted by the Free Press as saying the healing walk money was supposed to be spent on counselling, so spending it on helping someone learn to fly is wrong.
But Bishop Beardy and Ms. Barclay maintain that while counselling is part of the mandate of the fund, other efforts to support victims are also included. Counselling is not the only way to help victims of abuse, they said.