OTTAWA, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- The Canadian government and the country's Anglican Church announced agreement Wednesday to compensate thousands of Indians physically and sexually abused at church-run residential schools decades ago.
Under the agreement-in-principle, the church would contribute up to $25 million to a settlement fund and would pay up to 30 percent of claims, with the government paying the rest.
Anglican leaders believe it's the best possible outcome.
"It makes no sense to bankrupt us," Archbishop Michael Peers told a news conference. "The minute we go bankrupt, the government has to pay 100 percent."
The two sides spent a year negotiating the deal, and last month the federal government announced it would cover 70 percent of claims.
"Instead of meeting each other in court, Canada and the Anglican Church can focus our efforts together to settle the thousands of outstanding claims in a more supportive way for victims," said Ralph Goodale, the cabinet minister charged with handling the claims.
"This historic agreement allows the government and church to move beyond the debate of who pays what."
Before the deal can be finalized, 30 Anglican dioceses must ratify it and figure out where they'll find their share of the money -- due over the next five years.
If approved by the dioceses soon, abused former students could receive checks as early as February.
Claims are currently being resolved out of court at a rate of one a day. Most are being paid out for less than $100,000.
"I have sat in healing circles and heard the painful stories of abuse," Archbishop Peers said.
"By entering into this agreement, we are saying that we have heard those stories, that we acknowledge our tragic part in them."
The Canadian government operated about 100 residential schools as joint ventures with religious organizations.
More than 90,000 Indian children attended the live-in schools, often against their will.
Most school were closed by the mid-1970s, but two decades later, a wave of former students said they had been sexually and physically abused.
Until now, the cases have been in a legal limbo while the Canadian government negotiated with several churches.
Schools were also run by the Presbyterian, United and Roman Catholic churches.
Together with the Anglican Church, the four organizations were negotiating as a single entity with the federal government.
The group disbanded early this year, but the Anglican Church decided to pursue talks on its own.
Overall, the federal government and churches have been named in about 5,000 lawsuits that represent more than 12,000 plaintiffs.
It's estimated the total cost of reaching settlements could top $1 billion in all.
"The moral leadership shown by the Anglican Church in accepting the responsibility to the former students of the Anglican residential schools has opened the door to this agreement-in-principle," Goodale said.
Observers say the Roman Catholic Church of Canada is closely watching the outcome of the Anglican agreement with the federal government.
It is named in 72 percent of the cases and would face a much greater financial burden if it agrees to a similar deal.