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Papal apology still top of mind in TRC Calls to Action

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — A request to Pope Francis for an apology in Canada for the Catholic Church’s role in Indian residential schools has gone to the Vatican.

“The pope has received this invitation, this request, from the First Nations,” said Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi. “He is considering it.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call for the pope to apologize for Indian residential schools on Canadian soil within a year of the June 2015 publication of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action is one of two that had a time limit, TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson said March 30 at an Ottawa news conference.

“We heard many survivors say, ‘My church has not apologized to me,’ ” she said. Asked if an apology from Pope Francis would be enough, she responded, “I’m certain it won’t be enough. It’s all just movement forward.”

“No one thing will be perfect for everyone,” she said. “But we have to keep trying.”

Wilson acknowledged many bishops and Catholic organizations have apologized over the years, and the structure of the Catholic Church as a group of dioceses and entities rather than one national church has not permitted one Canadian response. Many of the 7,000 witnesses the TRC heard wanted a “corporate response,” she said.

“We, all of us, have inherited this,” she said of Canadian church history. People are “still struggling over” it. “There’s been a kind of apprehension We really blew it.”

Wilson responded to an ecumenical statement made by an array of Protestant denominations, from the Anglican Church, the United Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Lutheran Church to the Salvation Army and the Quakers, on Call to Action #48 asking all faith communities to bring their policies in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by March 31.

Though organized by KAIROS, no Catholic leaders were present. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Canadian Religious Conference and other Catholic organizations had published their response to #48 the previous day. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada also released its response separately.

“The churches are saying they will allow us to become what God called us to be,” said the Anglican Church of Canada’s National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald.

Indigenous ways of life and spiritual practices “can no longer be excluded or precluded by members of the church,” he said. MacDonald said the Gospel was preached to “make us like other people.”

The TRC report spoke of cultural genocide against Canada’s indigenous peoples and Wilson said she had not been prepared to hear how often witnesses spoke of “spiritual abuse” at the schools.

Wilson stressed the Calls to Action were not issued “to make people comfortable,” or to represent a “kinder, gentler assimilation.”

The Calls to Action are “not optional,” she said. The TRC deliberately made them “sound imperative.”

Wilson called the response of the faith communities “bold” and “courageous.”

“We, too, have been part of colonialization,” she said, and through that have supported “spiritual displacement.”

Wilson stressed, however, not all survivors’ experiences of the church were the same. Some said, “I hate the church; I’ll never set foot in the church again,” she said. Others said they felt “hurt” and injured when people spoke ill of the church. Some said the church had been “key to my healing.”

Others said, “It wasn’t the church who did these things to us; it was individuals who hid behind the church who did these things to us.”

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