(June 1, 2021) The news that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation had located the undocumented remains of 215 children, on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School run by the Catholic Church, broke late in the evening eastern time on Thursday, May 27. Some of the buried children were said to be as young as three-years-old. So urgent and tragic was the discovery that by the next morning, the news spread across the globe like a brush fire.
- The Guardian, Canada: remains of 215 children found at Indigenous residential school site
- New York Times, ‘Horrible History’: Mass Grave of Indigenous Children Reported in Canada
- The Washington Post, Remains of 215 Indigenous children discovered at former Canadian residential school site
- CNN ‘Unthinkable’ discovery in Canada as remains of 215 children found buried near residential school
- Al Jazeera, Remains of 215 children found at Indigenous school site in Canada
Flags have been lowered to half-staff across the country. Many have expressed their grief over these lost young souls, but only those completely ignorant of Indigenous history in Canada have expressed surprise.
Yet, the Roman Catholic Church, which ran more than two thirds of the residential schools that operated in Canada, remains silent. In all these years, there’s been no confession. No repentance.
The Truth and Reconciliation Committee found that between the 1880s and 1996, when the last school was closed, more than 150,000 Indigenous children attended residential schools, many of whom reported being physically, sexually and psychologically abused at the hands of priests, nuns or other teachers. More than 4,000 children are thought to have died, undocumented.
Recommendation #58 from Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report Calls to Action calls upon
“the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”
Yet, the Catholic Church has remained intransigent.
During a visit to the Vatican in 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally asked the Pope to issue the apology.
The answer was no.
In 2018, the House of Commons passed a motion by a vote of 269-10 asking the for the Church’s apology.
The answer was no.
In the meantime, despite conversations with the Vatican and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops with the Assembly of First Nations and individual Indigenous communities, the response is unchanged.
The answer is still no.
Michael Coren, once a talk-show host and now an Anglican priest, wrote a moving column for iPolitics within hours of the news breaking on May 28. In it, he describes the apologies made by the United Church in 1986 and the Anglican church in 1993. He also theorizes about why the Catholic Church has never followed suit.
“Beyond the financial and legal consequences, there is also the issue of the church’s reputation. While many Catholics, and many leaders within the church, are ashamed at the very idea of the residential school system, conservative elements within the church see it more as a noble effort that was badly handled than an ideal that was flawed in itself.”
Perhaps the Roman Catholic Church needs to feel the consequences of their actions to fully understand how unacceptable Canadians feel about the behaviour of the Church.
Perhaps it’s time to take away the charitable status of both the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the 308 Roman Catholic charities that can currently issue tax credits paid for by the Canadian taxpayer.
A charity that is late filing its return, or files a return inaccurately, can face suspension of charity status for a year, giving them time to think about the privilege of being a charity and to made amends. Hopefully, they learn from the process and do better going forward.
Perhaps the Canadian government through the Canada Revenue Agency could apply the revocation of charitable status as a consequence for the behaviour of the Roman Catholic Church, which has been found by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as judicial bodies across the country, to have included physically and sexually abusing children, which is against the law.
Yet, societal norms and the rule of law do not seem to be working in the case of the Roman Catholic Church. Their actions do not fulfill a charitable aim. Canadians are disgusted.
Therefore, the Church—and its affiliates—should not be treated as honest brokers, but more like an organization willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of children to retain its power and wealth.
If there is any justice in this world, the full weight of the law must be applied to them, and the revocation of their charitable status is only the first step.
And perhaps by not receiving the usual tax receipt for the money they drop in the collection plate, Roman Catholics across the country might get the message that the country feels shame and disgust at the Church’s refusal to repent.
Christianity demands confession and repentance of sins from its followers. A common prayer of contrition for the Catholic churchgoer might be,
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of hell,
But most of all because they have offended Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace,
to confess my sins,
to do penance,
and to amend my life. Amen
Clearly, the church itself does not feel compelled towards contrition of their neglect of children, the abuse waged on so many, and the undocumented deaths of so many more. And instead of offering these children a Christian burial with grace and dignity, among the people who loved them, the church consciously made the decision to cover up the deaths, to not document them, and to not inform the loved ones.
“Blessed are they who have not walked in the way of the wicked,” reads the first Psalm in the Holy Bible.
Hypocrisy is not a strong enough word for what the Catholic Church is practising right now. And they are leaving the Government of Canada with no other choice than to use stronger language.
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