Harper should ask Pope Francis to apologize for residential school abuse: Editorial
Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, now a saint, have apologized in the past 25 years for all manner of wrongs done in the name of the Catholic Church over the centuries.
Those sins include clerical sex abuse of children in the United States, Ireland, Australia and elsewhere. Historical persecution of Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Protestants, Jews, Roma and others. Abuse of women. The cowardice some Christians showed during the Nazi Holocaust. The slave trade. Missionary abuses of indigenous peoples. And the condemnation of Galileo, who challenged the false idea that the Earth is the centre of the universe.
These apologies didn’t always live up to the hopes of those who were wronged. But they were an expression of official contrition that went some way toward acknowledging the Church’s human frailty, healing the hurt, and setting the historical record right.
Canada’s 80,000 aboriginal survivors of the church-run residential school system deserve no less. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper should seek a papal apology on their behalf when he meets Pope Francis on Thursday. Some 150,000 children were ripped from their families in a racist attempt to “kill the Indian in the child” that was abetted by Catholic and other Christian clergy, and 6,000 died in the schools. Many were abused emotionally, physically and sexually. It was a dark chapter in our history.
The Anglican Church in Canada has long since apologized. Back in 1993 then-primate Archbishop Michael Peers declared “I am sorry, more than I can say.” Others involved with the schools, including the United Church, Presbyterians and Jesuits have similarly expressed sorrow and regret.
In 2009 Pope Benedict privately expressed “sorrow” to a First Nations delegation. So has Archbishop Gérard Pettipas, on behalf of the Catholic Entities Parties to the Indian Residential School Settlement, along with other bishops and church groups. But Canada’s Catholic primate — currently Quebec’s Cardinal Gérald Lacroix — has never officially apologized on behalf of the church as a whole, because it wasn’t formally associated with the schools, nor was its conference of bishops. The schools, 60 per cent of them Catholic, were run by 50 local dioceses and religious orders.
This is not what survivors need to hear. It is legalistic, and less than generous. It falls short of Pope Francis’ recent stirring call to reach out to the marginalized. “What matters for Jesus is, above all, reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick and restoring everyone to God’s family!” he declared. Few communities in Canada have suffered more. The Canadian Church has a moral obligation in this matter.
Harper should invite the Pope, as head of the church, to reach out on behalf of his faithful, and help heal the wider family.