Sunday, July 04, 2021

Time for a papal apology -- or not

What’s with the Pope?
Pope Francis came to the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church riding on a wave of good will. Compared to his rigid and very old predecessor, he seemed to be muuch more of a modern man, or at least someone who better understood the challenges facing the organization. He has shown a willingness or even a determination to deal with the great many lay members and lower clergy who disapprove of some of the traditional teachings of the Church.
Which makes his reluctance to apologize for the Church’s role in running Canada’s now notorious residential schools very puzzling. What is he thinking? Does he understand how this looks, what the effect his position will have on the Canadian church in the short run and the long?
Many of my readers will have no idea what I am talking about. Residential schools were in fact an important part of Canadian life from the mid-19th century until the 1990s, when the last one was closed. Yes, the schools were in operation in your lifetime. The purpose of the schools was to turn “savage” Indians, Metis, and Inuit into “civilized” Canadians. The method for doing this was to culturally assimilate these people by eliminating their languages and institutions. The residential schools were a key part of this policy. Young members of these First Nations group were taken from their families and subjected to a curriculum, if you can call it that, that said everything native was bad and everything white was good.
Perhaps a gentle approach to these goals might have worked, but there was nothing gentle about the residential schools. The “students” were badly fed, isolated from their families, and beaten for various errors, the most important being speaking their own languages, even a few words. The cruelty of the environment was such rthat many, many of these kids ran away and died as a result. Most of the schools were in remote, cold locations, and if you have experience a northern winter in Canada, you can easily imagine that the death rate for runaways was very high.
Now non-native Canadians don’t need to imagine. Twice in the past month, archaeologists and other volunteers, looking for the history of the residential schools and their students have found graveyards filled with hundreds of unmarked graves of students. The first find of about 250 bodies shocked the country; before the week was out, a graveyard of over 700 ws found near another school.
All the reports of residential school problems had not made a dent in the Canadian self-image – on ‘racial’ issues Canada waas one of the good guys, most thought, but all those dead kids made a tremendous impact. It sure did on me, and I already knew about the residential schools.
Now here’s where the Pope comes in.
When in this era an atrocity is brought to light – generally by the children of those who were slaughtered or displaced – those wronged demand that the wronged make recompensation, perhaps material, perhaps in the form of an apology. How much good this may do anyone is certainly open to opinion. But a lot of people have made an apology for the treatment of indigenous children central to their image of justice.
He won’t do it.
Francis has said that a separate and wider apology is not necessary because he has already made one in Bolivia, a country full of indigenous people, in 2015. This is true. There is something going on though. How can the Pope be so willing to alienate Canadian Catholics with such a PR disaster? What consideration can be so strong?
Could the Doctrine of Discovery, where Pope Alexander VI gave away the Western Hemisphere to European powers have some thing to do with it? Or some arcane in church doctrine? Tune back in half a century.

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