The Apology That Failed: Pope Francis Didn’t Go Far Enough
By Levi Rickert
OPINION. Earlier this month, a delegation of around 100 First Nations, Inuit and Métis representatives made a pilgrimage to Vatican City to meet with Pope Francis and other Roman Catholic leaders to discuss surviving scars from residential schools in Canada.
Beginning in the late 1800s and spanning a century, over 150,000 Aboriginal children were sent to residential schools in Canada. The Catholic Church was responsible for running three-quarters of the 139 residential schools operated in Canada.
During this dark period of Canadian history, Indigenous students were subjected to a concerted effort to strip them of their Indigenous languages and culture in an effort to assimilate them. Over the past several years, testimonies from surviving students have provided evidence of widespread physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that resulted in the deaths of Indigenous students.
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In late May 2021, the discovery of the remains of 215 children in a mass grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia was revealed to the world. The revelation shook the world, shining a spotlight on this dark era of forced assimilation. Within weeks, several more unmarked graves were discovered at other residential schools in Canada, bringing the number of graves to over a thousand.
Since last summer, Indigenous leaders in Canada have been demanding an apology from the Catholic Church.
On Friday, April 1, an apology came from Pope Francis as the indigenous delegation gathered at the Vatican. The apology was picked up by major media outlets in Canada and the United States. The New York Times headline read: “I’m Ashamed”: Pope Apologizes to Indigenous Peoples of Canada. »
“I feel shame – grief and shame – for the role ‘Catholics have played’ in the abuse you have suffered and the lack of respect for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values”, was a quote from the New York Times. .
A closer look at the entire actual apology that was released by the church reads differently than how the Times reported it:
“I also feel shame. I told you and now I repeat it, with sorrow and shame, for the role that a number of Catholics, especially those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that have hurt you, in the abuses that you suffered and in the lack of respect for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values. All of these things are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
[READ: Pope Francis’ statement to Canada’s Indigenous People]
The Pope’s apology actually specifies those responsible for all the abuses to say “a number of Catholics”.
A few paragraphs later, he takes up the defense of “good and honest believers, who in the name of faith, and with respect, love and kindness, have enriched your history with the Gospel”.
The apology did not go far enough and did not allow the Catholic Church to admit wrongdoing on its part.
While condemning a number of Catholics, he suggests that “good and honest believers” somehow appease the evil – which included physical, emotional and sexual abuse – committed by others.
“To be honest, the #Pontifex apology sounds more like a carefully crafted statement by the CEO of a major company after announcing the settlement of a class action lawsuit in which the company paid a fine and admitted that bad things occurred, but claimed zero institutional accountability,” Native American author and activist Mark Charles (Navajo) wrote on his Facebook page.
Apologies were lacking. It would have been more meaningful if Pope Francis had said he apologized for the entire Catholic Church on behalf of all Catholics.
“While the apology is an important step, there is still much work to be done. Armed with this historic recognition, the Church must move forward to address Holocaust deniers within their congregations. Stories of Survivors residential schools belong to church services and Sunday schools. It was a great injustice that Catholics – and everyone else – must learn from,” said attorney Murray Sinclair (Peguis First Nation), former senator and former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), in a statement released Wednesday.
Even if the apology didn’t go far enough, it was indeed historic. Pope Francis has pledged to visit Canada in July to meet more Indigenous people.
I believe his visit to the land where innocent Indigenous lives were tragically lost in residential schools will have more meaning for the victims and their descendants.
I hope that at the time of his visit, Pope Francis will move away from corporate-style press statements and engage in genuine conversations with First Nations, Inuit and Métis – as well as with members of his own Catholic Church – on what happened and, above all, why it happened.
Hopefully Francis will fully acknowledge that the atrocities committed were part of a system of abuse by the Catholic Church, which had a responsibility to care for indigenous children, but failed miserably because of the mass evil perpetrated against these innocent lives. .
I hope he will live by his words to First Nations, Inuit and Métis: “The memory of the past must never be sacrificed on the altar of so-called progress.
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