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The Pope and the meaningless apology

Canada has a history of racism and violence against its Indigenous peoples. In the name of conquest, the Canadian government, aided by the Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and United Church, forced people into residential schools that became centers of abuse. The Vatican was the last to apologize – on April 29th of this year. The Pope did not use the words “I am sorry,” nor did he say “I apologize.” According to the Globe and Mail, the following statement was placed on the official Vatican website:

“Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian residential school system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity,” the statement read. “His Holiness emphasized that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society. He prayed that all those affected would experience healing, and he encouraged First Nations peoples to continue to move forward with renewed hope.”

Phil Fontaine, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations later spoke at a news conference and said,

“I sensed his anguish and pain. He acknowledged our suffering and that is important to me and that was what I was looking for. We heard him speak about the pain and suffering of so many for so many years, and to also speak about the abuses that were inflicted on so many people and to acknowledge the role of the Catholic Church. The fact that the word ‘apology’ was not used does not diminish this moment in any way,”

I completely understand why after all of the years of silence any form of accountability seems good, however accountability without some form of accurate allocution is meaningless.

Seventy-five percent of the residential schools in Canada were run by the Catholic Church. There are 90,000 survivors alive today that must deal with the memories of sexual and physical abuse, as well the loss of culture inflicted by this terrible system. In September of 2007, the Canadian government created a compensation fund for the survivors of which the Catholic Church donated $79 billion.

It was a significant sum of money that the Catholic church contributed. However, when one considers that they profited every single day that they ran these schools, is this not simply the return of blood money with a little interest? In 1892, the Canadian government began paying all religious denominations that ran schools 110-145 dollars per student per year and 72 dollars for each student that attended day school. In 1920 the Department of Indian Affairs made the schools mandatory for all children between the ages of 7-15 under the guise of “civilizing” our native population.

Students were forced to speak only English and those who arrived only speaking Indigenous languages were made to suffer in silence for years until they could learn to communicate. Many lost the ability to speak their Native tongue forever. Their hair was shaved immediately upon arrival which is a great violation. As a form of punishment, many were place on a calorie reduced diet or simply starved to death. This was also accompanied by harsh physical, mental, and sexual abuse.

Though the residential schools are now closed, they have had a lasting effect on the Indigenous population. They graduate at the lowest rates from Canadian high schools and because today education is the path to success, this has lead to poverty. In an attempt to self medicate many turned to alcohol and to this day alcoholism continues to plague the community. There are also higher rates of domestic violence, rape, child abuse and early death than the national average.

The Indigenous community continues to pay for the actions of the Catholic Church and the Pope could not bring himself to say the words “I am sorry.” Expressing regret is not taking ownership for the actions of the church.

Though Fontaine is empowered to speak on behalf of Indigenous peoples, one cannot help but wonder how many people feel dissatisfied by this so-called expression of repentance. A full allocution of the Churches activities should have been made public as they had no issue performing this behaviour without attempting to hide it when it was occurring. It is only now that they face public recriminations that secrecy is suddenly required. Evil is not combated through secrecy, but by shining a light.