A “Non-Apology Apology Keeps the Pain Alive
Pope Francis has come as close to an apology but still remains far from what many Canadians including the government are asking for over the Roman Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. But his efforts fall far short of what is really needed.
The Prime Minister is on record calling for action from the Pope.
“It’s going to be a really important moment to make it clear that we expect the Church to step up and take responsibility for its role in this and be there to help in the grieving and the healing, including with records, as necessary,” says Prime Minister Trudeau. “We’re still seeing resistance from the Church, possibly from the Church in Canada.”
I join the Canadian Bishops and the whole Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people, who have been traumatised by shocking discovery of the remains of two hundred and fifteen children, pupils at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 6, 2021
Speaking in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said, “The sad discovery further raises awareness of the pains and sufferings of the past. May the political and religious authorities of Canada continue to collaborate with determination to shed light on that sad story and humbly commit themselves to a path of reconciliation and healing,”
“These difficult moments represent a strong appeal for all of us, to move away from the colonizing model and also from the ideological colonization of today, and walk side by side in dialogue, in mutual respect and in the recognition of the rights and cultural values of all daughters and sons of Canada,” added the Pope.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its report calls on the Roman Catholic Church to take responsibility.
If you think back to the Watergate Scandal in American politics in the 1970s, it was the “Non-Denial Denial” that kept the Washington Post on the story.
Pope Francis in issuing a “Non-Apology Apology” is only likely to increase the calls for that apology.
The Indian Residential Schools where Indigenous children were taken, often forcibly taken by the RCMP and government officials were run by Catholic Priests and Nun, the Anglican Church, and in other parts of Canada were places where the government of Canada sought to forcibly assimilate an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children.
This has been called a genocide. It was both a cultural genocide, students in these schools were stripped of their culture, their language and their connections to their families.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has detailed how Indian Residential School students were systematically stripped away from their families, and their communities and were forced to attend residential schools.
This has had long-lasting impact on Canada’s Indigenous people. The feelings of guilt from parents, the disconnection between students ripped from their families, the inability in many cases to raise their own families, and the decades of issues with alcohol and drugs and other addictive methods as people sought to mask the deep pain they felt that many still see and feel today that continues called, intergenerational trauma.
The greatest disappointment here is that it is very likely once the flags across Canada return to full staff after 215 hours at half-mast that it is be a return to business as usual in Canada.
That the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope seem to feel all that is needed is for them to express sorrow, falls far short of what is needed.
A start would be an apology. The next steps are likely the ones that the Pope fears the most, having to pay compensation for the atrocities that Priests and Nuns did to children is probably the biggest hurdle to an apology.
The bigger risk that not apologizing brings is that the Roman Catholic Church will become increasingly irrelevant to more and more people over time.
For Canada the next steps are going to be critically important. There needs to be action taking over from words. There must be a national effort to examine all of the sites where these residential schools were to see if there are similar unmarked graves on their sites too.
Our Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that his “Most important relationship” is with Canada’s Indigenous people. Now is his opportunity to show us exactly how important that is.