The View From Here – To achieve reconciliation, the pope needs to apologize formally to residential school survivors

Tom Henihan

On May 1, Members of Parliament voted almost unanimously, 269 to 10, to invite Pope Francis to Canada to apologize formally to First Nations people for the brutality and enduring pain they experienced due to their internment in residential schools.

Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins – James Bay, who tabled the motion, called the May 1 vote “one of the proudest moments of this parliament.”

The motion to have the parliament of Canada call on the pope to come here and apologize was in response to an earlier, similar invitation extended to the pope by Justin Trudeau, an invitation Francis refused.

Most Canadians, including Catholics responded to the pope’s refusal to apologize with disappointment and disbelief.

As a Catholic, I found the pope’s negative response particularly problematic and disappointing because to any reasonable measure, this apology is owed to the victims for the hurt and humiliation thrust upon them by Catholic priests and nuns in what were, ostensibly at least, Catholic institutions.

True leadership of any institution must assume responsibility for crimes perpetrated in the name of that institution and Pope Francis is the leader of the Catholic Church.

To renege on this obligation is not just to add insult to injury but, emotionally and morally at least, to contribute and perpetrate the suffering of the victims of residential schools.

There is no tokenism to a sincere apology: a sincere apology turns the tables, making the victims the authority and casts the perpetrator in the role of supplicant asking for forgiveness from the injured party whose discretion it is to grant or withhold that forgiveness.

Considering the magnitude of the crimes perpetrated against them, Aboriginal Canadians’ willingness to accept an apology shows, by comparison, remarkable moral fortitude.

In any circumstance, for one to ask forgiveness and another to grant it, is key to achieving reconciliation.

This pope’s apology is already overdue to the victims of residential schools who suffered physically, emotionally, mentally, economically and culturally, and to their families, their children and communities who also must contend with the devastating repercussions of that experience.

It is not just the Parliament of Canada and aboriginal leadership who should invite Pope Francis, but all Canadians should add their voices especially Catholics and Catholic organizations including school boards.

Not that Pope Francis as a man is in any way complicit or culpable for the crimes committed by ministers of the Catholic Church but as the Pope of Rome, in that role he owes an apology to First Nations, Metis and Inuit people of Canada.

However, observing protocol, the pope cannot take it upon himself to arrive in Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops must also extend the invitation and that national assembly needs to hear forcibly from Canadian Catholics that it needs to do the right thing.

Everyone wants to be true to their faith and loyal to their religious institutions and faith community but on this important matter, Catholics cannot have their loyalty taken for granted or ignore their own moral judgment.

To remain silent is to tacitly agree that no apology is called for, to be asked to defend that position is to be asked to defend the indefensible.


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One thought on “The View From Here – To achieve reconciliation, the pope needs to apologize formally to residential school survivors

  1. Pope Benedict XVI apologized for residential schools to Chief Phil Fontaine and a delegation of AFN in 2009. The apology was graciously accepted. Another apology would serve no purpose other than political.

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