Your thoughts on Indigenous deaths, no excuses from Francis
On May 30, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of 215 bodies buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia. Pope Francis has expressed his pain at the discovery, but has not offered the apology demanded by Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister. A delegation of Indigenous people from Canada will meet with Francis at the Vatican before the end of the year, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced on June 10. Here are the responses from NCR readers to the news. The letters have been edited for length and clarity.
I write in light of the gruesome discovery of the anonymous graves of children outside the former Kamloops boarding school run largely by Catholic priests and nuns. I am a former major religious superior of a Catholic religious order (the Discalced Carmelites), which means that I was the closest a woman could to become a bishop in the Catholic Church today.
I write to publicly call on my fellow Canadian Catholics to demand that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops fulfill its overt ethical obligation: (1) issue a formal apology; and (2) pay its ethical share of compensation for the obscene treatment of Indigenous children in Roman Catholic residential schools across Canada. The United Church apologized in 1987. The Anglican Church apologized in 1993. Yet the Catholic Church in Canada has not yet officially apologized. And a “legal misstep” in 2013 got the Catholic Church off the hook for most of the compensation it owed. How convenient. It is a stain on all Catholics in our country.
As a member of a staunch Catholic family, I was taught that Catholicism is standing or “the preferential option for the poor” – a phrase used by Pope Francis. Now, who in Canada deserves a preferential option for the poor more than the children of indigenous communities abducted from their homes, malnourished, humiliated and physically and sexually abused? Or their families, children and infants, who are still widely subject to racism and injustice today, not to mention drug addiction and incarceration rates well above the Canadian average? This charity either. It is justice.
Dear fellow Catholics, are you really horrified by the discovery in Kamloops? If so, contact the Canadian Bishops’ Conference to demand that your church issue a formal apology and honor its moral side of the compensation claims. Talk to your pastors, write to the media, talk about it on your Facebook page and on Twitter.
Yes, the finances of the Catholic Church in Canada will take a hit. But oddly enough, the Catholic Church has always found huge sums of money to pay lawyers to challenge cases brought by victims of abuse by priests (and, yes, nuns). Is this how you like your collection money to be spent? Speaking of fundraising, you may decide not to donate another dime to the fundraiser until you have seen significant action on this issue.
And frankly, dear fellow Catholics, do not dare to speak again of the sanctity of the life of unborn children (which ultimately cost us nothing), before having addressed this obscene injustice, past and very current, perpetrated in the name of of our church.
So now it is the turn of the Church of Canada to refuse to take responsibility for decades of child abuse and turn over the files on the perpetrators and their bishop facilitators. And the Pope “feels pain”.
There have been three series of key events in my life that have driven Catholics away from the church in droves. Humanae vitae in 1968 sent the first wave to the outputs. Then came the seemingly endless saga of child abuse and cover-up that still reverberates today and now takes center stage in Canada. And the icing on the cake for many Catholics like me is the disgusting alliance of so many American bishops with Donald Trump.
For me, there is a common thread running through this incredible insensitivity of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. This common thread is not that parents make decisions in the Catholic Church. What parents would think it is a burden to pass on parents that whenever they are intimate they run the possibility of pregnancy, especially in situations where health and finances are critical issues? What responsible parents would let a monster with a collar abuse their children, then do whatever they can to cover it up? What true Christian parent would turn a blind eye to the racism, cruelty to immigrants and women, and the poor that “highlights” Trump?
No, the Catholic Church must have single men who make the rules. Guys with no friends and no kids. Guys with little experience of the daily struggles of raising a family and the dangers that can threaten them. The group unable and unwilling to listen to Spirit or anyone other than themselves.
I have little doubt that the fourth significant series of events awaits us.
In 2015, the two-volume survey of the Treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, which paid special attention to residential schools, initiated by the government and operated by various faiths, mostly Catholic, was completed.
In 2018, the report’s coordinator, Indigenous Judge and Senator Murray Sinclair, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, called on Pope Francis to issue a formal apology to Indigenous peoples for the spiritual and physical abuse they suffered in these schools. Francois, without providing an explanation, said he was unable to offer a personal apology.
Onward to today and the discovery of 215 anonymous graves of children at the now defunct Catholic Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia. Once again, Sinclair and Trudeau appealed to Francis for an apology. At the same time, Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, a prominent defender of indigenous rights, especially with regard to the oppression of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin, pointed out that according to a collegial protocol, Francis is not free offer an institutional apology until the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops apologizes and then calls on Francis to do the same.
As a Canadian Catholic, I hope that before the aboriginal delegation leaves for Rome, the Canadian bishops will make a gesture of good faith and offer a national apology. Such a gesture would allow the Pope to do the same, thus facilitating a more trusting environment and encouraging a process of forgiveness and reconciliation.
JOSEPH A. FARDELLA
I am grateful that the leader of my country admits his fault and pledges to bring justice and healing, but I do not think that justice and healing can come without another leader following the example of the First minister.
The Roman Catholic, Anglican, United Methodist and Presbyterian churches were the main denominations involved in the administration of the residential school system, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The Catholic Church was responsible for operating up to 60% of residential schools in Canada, but the Catholic Church is the only one that did not issue a formal apology.
In 2008, the federal government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, issued a formal apology for the damage caused by the residential school system. And in 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally asked Pope Francis for an apology during a visit to the Vatican. But the Pope did not apologize.
It is all the more confusing as the Pope claims absolute authority in the Catholic Church and enjoys all the power and privileges that this supreme authority brings. Yet when the church is called for wrongdoing, the Pope does not take responsibility for it.
It is high time for the Pope to take responsibility for the atrocities committed by the Catholic Church. Justice will no longer be denied to the little ones.
LORI P. DEXTER
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