Apology Needs More Than Words

A few days ago, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Canada apologized “unequivocally” to Canadian Indigenous people for “grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community; physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and sexual.”

The single page apology said – “We also sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples that continue to this day” – and conveyed a commitment that the conference of bishops would raise up to $30 million to help Indigenous communities to “address historical wrongs.”

Admirable though $30 million may appear, it will be but a modest dip into the international treasure chest controlled by the Vatican. It has known assets between $5 and $6 billion and national wealth of around $30 billion. It owns banks in which “an approximate tonne of gold is stored” and an investment portfolio that Canada’s National Post newspaper once described as “secret.”  

So, be sure to read slowly and digest the words of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Canada as its President Bishop Raymond Poisson wrote in a press release dated Sept 27: “The Bishops, as a tangible expression of their commitment to walk with Indigenous Peoples of this land along the pathway of hope, are making a nation-wide collective financial commitment to support reconciliation initiatives for residential school survivors, their families and their communities  …With a target of $30 million over up to five years, this will include initiatives in every region of the country … parishes across are Canada being encouraged to participate.”

To put things in clearer perspective, the bishops have launched a drive to raise $30 million that will be used for reconciliation projects over the next five years. There is nothing wrong with that, providing it is clearly stated that every penny collected for “reconciliation” goes to that cause untouched by the Vatican.

The Vatican has not earned a saintly reputation over the centuries. Recently, it has had to ride out many scandals, some caused by collapses of morality in the ranks of cardinals, bishops, nuns and parish priests. These scandals range from dishonest bookkeeping to flagrant, often brutal, bullying and predatory sexual offences. 

A short time ago, on CBC’s As It Happens, Wall Street Journal reporter Francis Roccan commented that the Vatican had been doing poorly with some of its investments and had eliminated overruns in some accounts using funds from Peter’s Pence – the annual Catholic fundraiser created solely to assist the poor, sick and needy.

Roccan said he had asked Pope Francis to explain and justify using funds raised explicitly for charity to cover losses from poor advice or bad investments. He said: “Pope Francis has not responded … some people say, ‘Well he has every legal right to do it’ – and that’s true … he does. The problem, in this case, is misleading advertising. It’s not about the law governing (disposition of) the fund.” He has the legal right to dispense the funds, but they were raised specifically to assist the needy, not bail out unwise investors.

In December, a group selected from Indigenous leaders, elders and residential school survivors is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in Rome, where he is expected to make the bishops’ apology his own on behalf of Catholics worldwide.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Rose Anne Archibald has said she won’t be there. Canadian Press reports quoted her as saying: “We have been very public that we want the Pope here in Canada to offer that apology on Canadian soil.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made the same request, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Catholic by faith, also appealed for a personal visit. The Pope declined, asking the Canadian bishops to tell the PM he “could not personally attend.”

Our native leaders will be at great disadvantage in December, dazzled by opulence, surrounded by enough Vatican gold, silver, jewels, art and statuary to solve most of their problems – but not all of them. Those native leaders will represent Indigenous people who have suffered the loss of a child – worse, the loss of a generation of children. These wrongs cannot be resolved with money alone. However, a sincere apology for evil done in the name of God and funding to build living memorials, such as domestic water supplies for Indigenous communities, would soften the pain.

Maybe they should ask him to dip into Peter’s Pence, where an estimated $600 million still sits waiting for another deficit to cover – or be used as was intended to help people fate has dealt an unkind hand.


  1. As always..well written! I have been to the Vatican & as a result cannot countenance the Catholic religion with respect to not. Only abuse of Canadian indigenous children but world-wide abuse of their holdings & teachings.

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