TORONTO (CCN) — The churches and religious orders who ran Indian residential schools up until the 1970s have responded to the final 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with a promise to do more.
“We welcome the commissioner’s call to the parties to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement for a new Covenant of Reconciliation,” said a statement signed by Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, president of the Catholic Entities Parties to the Indian Residential School Settlement, Jesuit provincial superior Peter Bisson and leaders of the Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches.
Among the recommendations is that Pope Francis come to Canada within a year to personally apologize for the Catholic role in the schools, that the federal government increase spending on education, set national standards for child welfare systems and change the oath of citizenship to acknowledge Canada’s treaty obligations to First Nations.
Bisson is supportive of the call for a papal apology.
“I think it would be a great idea for the pope to say something,” said Bisson. “He might want to say something about indigenous people around the world and not only in Canada, but I think it would be terrific.”
The Vatican’s nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, told TRC commissioners the request to the pope would be forwarded with “high priority,” a participant in the closing ceremonies told The Catholic Register.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops will wait until its fall plenary assembly to respond to the TRC final report.
“Only all the bishops gathered together can respond to these items,” said CCCB general secretary Msgr. Pat Powers.
The missionaries who ran the schools under government supervision felt an immediate response was necessary, said Bisson.
Even if it seems the church has apologized many times since the Oblates of Mary Immaculate issued the first apology in 1991, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth repeating, said Bisson.
“It’s one thing for church leaders to respond, but these mindsets need to be changed at the level of our whole society — in the pews and not just from church leaders,” he said.
“For those of us who understand the juridical structure of the Catholic Church, we would say that apologies from every relevant area of the church have been made. The TRC is not denying that. The TRC is saying there’s still a perception that the church hasn’t,” said Gerry Kelly, former consultant to the Catholic Entities.
Kelly has been on the frontlines of the settlement process and reconciliation efforts since before the 2007 out-of-court settlement of a class action lawsuit which named the churches and the federal government. Out of the total $1.9 billion settlement with former students, the Catholic Entities agreed to $29 million in cash payments, $25 million in in-kind contributions and a best-efforts campaign to raise another $25 million for ongoing healing and reconciliation projects across the country. The Moving Forward Together Campaign has raised less than $5 million of its goal so far.
“This is the part that’s fallen down,” said Kelly.
Kelly believes it’s ordinary Catholics, rather than more statements from church leaders, who will make reconciliation happen.
“Let’s take a quick breath and read and try to understand this. Let’s take a look in the Catholic community to see where this is happening,” he said. “And let us find out what it would take to see this work that is already being done and give it the support that it needs.”
Programs such as Returning to Spirit have already involved thousands of native and non-native Canadians in a common spiritual experience. Every year the Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops meets with First Nations elders at Edmonton’s Newman Theological College to assess the state of native ministry. Seminaries in Western Canada have incorporated the history of residential schools and native spirituality and culture into their curricula.
“People are spending significant time and effort just getting to know each other across the kind of unknown that exists in Canada between First Nations and non-First Nations people,” said Kelly.