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TRC call for papal apology remains controversial

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Now that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has released its recommendations, the request for a papal apology remains a source of controversy.

Ottawa Archbishop Prendergast, in interviews with Sun/Post Media and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), drew negative comments for telling the Sun the request for an apology within a year in Canada struck him as “rather demanding” and that they “wanted it to address certain things, like the spiritual abuse they suffered.”

The archbishop had said the TRC was “reaching for the moon.”

“As the Holy Father is known to send written and video messages for special occasions and to phone people at different times, I felt asking something less than his coming to Canada within a year might have had a much better sense of achieving their goal,” Prendergast said in an email, when asked for clarification. “Imagine Pope Francis on Skype at an Assembly of First Nations gathering!”

“That’s why I said I thought they were reaching for the moon,” he said. “No disrespect but it generally takes a long time to plan a papal visit and there are protocols involved. I didn’t mean to throw cold water on their wish, only to suggest there might be better ways for it to be realized.”

As for protocols in arranging a papal visit, Prendergast said Pope Francis may be visiting Canada in 2017. Earlier this year, Montreal’s Mayor Denis Corderre and Archbishop Christian Lépine went to Rome to request a papal visit to coincide with their city’s 375th anniversary celebrations.

In the Sun interview, Prendergast notes the TRC asked for a Royal Proclamation from the Queen but did not ask her to come to Canada to deliver it. “My question is, is the issuing of apologies going to be a constant demand for years and years? And would the next pope have to say it as well?”

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his regret and shame for abuses at Indian residential schools to First Nations leaders who met with him in the Vatican. Winnipeg archbishop-emeritus James Weisgerber, who was CCCB president in 2009, played a key role in arranging the meeting with Pope Benedict, Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine and four other First Nations’ leaders from across the country. Also present were five former missionaries who worked in the residential schools.

After that meeting Fontaine told a news conference, according to CNS: “We wanted to hear him say that he understands and that he is sorry and that he feels our suffering, and we heard that very clearly.”

Weisgerber, who was present at that meeting in 2009, said in an interview that he does not know why the TRC commissioners felt they needed to ask Pope Francis for an apology, but said: “Pope Benedict did precisely that.”

“It was a very loving and very emotional meeting,” the archbishop said. It began with Fontaine reading a statement about the “pain and hurt and dislocation caused by the schools to the Aboriginal people” and the role of the church.

“The pope, I think he was very moved by what Phil had to say,” Weisgerber said.

Benedict had intended to speak in English, “but because of his deep feeling about this whole thing,” he was afraid he couldn’t express himself as well as he wanted if he spoke English, the archbishop said. So he spoke in Italian through a translator, “because he could speak from his heart in Italian.”

Weisgerber said he believes the problem is there is “no direct equivalent to ‘apology’ in Italian.”

“The reality is said in different ways, but there is no direct word, as there is no direct word in French,” he said. “They say ‘apologie’ but that’s an Anglicanism; it’s not a French word.”

“There are other ways of saying the same thing (as apology),” Weisgerber said. “And that’s what the pope said. He regretted, he felt ashamed that the church got involved in hurting other people, all those things are what an apology is.”

When Pope Benedict’s statement was translated, the word apology didn’t come out because that word is not there in Italian, he said.

When Weisgerber, Fontaine and the others met the press, “one of the first things people were concerned about was the word ‘apology’ was not present in the pope’s words,” the archbishop said. “But Phil Fontaine and the other leaders accepted it as an apology and they accepted the apology.”

“The key is, what was experienced by the leaders who were there,” he said. “I am imagining the TRC people don’t think the Pope Benedict apology was adequate.”

The chair of the Catholic Entities, the corporation made up of more than 50 dioceses and religious congregations who were party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, has remained conciliatory. He has said the prime minister must make the request to the pope. At TRC closing ceremonies June 3 at Rideau Hall, in the presence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders and the Governor General, he promised to bring the TRC Calls to Action report to the CCCB plenary in September.

“While the schools no longer exist we have been learning how these former institutions are connected to the rupture that still exists in our relationships,” said Pettipas. “We are learning that reconciliation is not only about the past but is about our present need for justice and is about our capacity together to build a better future.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is not responding to this TRC request or any of the 94 Calls to Action issued in the summary report released June 2.

CCCB communications director Rene LaPrise said in an email: “Only all the bishops gathered together can respond to these items.”

“Given the years of preparation involved in preparing the TRC report and calls to actions, these deserve time for careful reflection,” he said. “With regard to calls of action directed specifically toward the signatories of the Settlement Agreement, these are for their response. The CCCB does not speak on behalf of the Catholic entities, whether dioceses or religious communities.”

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