“Negligence,Indifference,Silence..” and Shame

It was an unusual sight, a banner headline streaming across the top of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) web page proclaiming “French Church Abuse: 216,000 Children were Victims of Clergy.” It offered the public the first tabloid-style glimpse of a report by an independent commission established close to three years ago to study and report on the behaviour of priests, nuns, and other church officials.

In BC – indeed across Canada – headlines recording death tolls in what were called Indian Residential Schools in the first half of the 1900s drew little attention. They were noted, sometimes given a tabloid front page lift, but not with any sincere rise in concern.

That didn’t come until about five years ago when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to check on growing concerns that residential schools, created to educate the children, had somehow gone awry. The original goal had been to scrub the children clean of their tribal origins and, if necessary, cleanse them with the use of belt and cane until they got the message.

They didn’t ask the parents if they would like their children educated this way. They just virtually kidnapped children, jammed them into overcrowded residences and left the Churches – Roman Catholic, Church of England, and others – to run the system at taxpayers’ expense.

Things rolled along fairly smoothly until maybe a couple of years ago. The findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were published, and non-Indigenous Canadians were made aware that their fabled peace-loving country had been actively financing an act of genocide.

And, with taxpayers’ aid, some Christian churches had been actively engaged in dubious conduct. Crunch time came when at least 215 unmarked children’s graves were located on the Kamloops school site. Other residential schools are reporting similar discoveries, and the Roman Catholic Bishops Council has made tentative promises of millions of dollars in compensation.

Reconciliation has become an operative word, but similar promises of aid in the past have fallen far short of promised targets.

In France, Vatican officials said Pope Francis felt “sadness and shame” when informed that an estimated 216,000 children were abused by priests, deacons, monks, or nuns in France from 1950 to 2020. Jean-Marc Sauve, head of the inquiry, told reporters the church had not only failed to prevent abuse but had also failed to report it and, at times, knowingly put children in contact with predators. “There was,” he said, “a whole bunch of negligence, of deficiency, of silence … an institutional cover-up.” 

A spokesman for the Vatican said the first thought of Pope Francis was for “the victims, with a deep sadness for their wounds and gratitude for coming forward. His thoughts also turn to the Church in France, and that, in recognizing these terrible events and united by the suffering of the Lord for his most vulnerable children, it can take the path to redemption.” 

There was no suggestion as to where the path to redemption might lead or what it might involve.

The inquiry in France doesn’t rule out financial compensation as part of the reconciliation. It states quite bluntly that the sexual abuse by priests “was systematic. It was the Church – not rogue individuals – that was responsible.” 

Whatever the cost of redemption, the Roman Catholic Church can afford it. It is believed to be the wealthiest corporation in the world, and as the authors of the Paris Report say: “The burden of the report is that ad hoc expressions of repentance and a bit of tinkering with ecclesiastical structure are no longer good enough.”

Financial compensation may no longer be an option in Canada as CBC television revealed a few days ago in recommended reading by old  Edmonton Journal Colleague Wilf Popoff, who regularly supports or challenges my weekly offering and keeps me up-to-date on Prairie thinking. It’s worth a read. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/catholic-residential-school-wilson-raybould-1.6202141

4 comments

  1. Jim

    Thank you for your comments on this disturbing part of Canadian and Catholic Church history. The damage that has been done by settlers to Indigenous people will take generations (7?) to heal The question now, is how can we help undo the damage that we were part of?

  2. The CBC must be praised for holding the Catholic Church’s feet to the fire. I am unaware of any other news medium doing this.

  3. I think you are wrong to call the Residential Schools system a genocide. There was no direct intention of killing all the indiginous people, like Hitler intended to do in the Holocaust or one tribe intended to do to another tribe in Rwanda.

    1. Actually, it was a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada who referred to the residential school system and the policy that drove it as cultural genocide. Canada’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission referred to residential schools as instruments of cultural genocide. Canada’s independent inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women characterized the pattern of violence toward Indigenous women and girls in Canada as genocidal. The Prime Minister of Canada acknowledged the inquiry’s painful conclusions in 2019 and officially said: “We accept the findings of the Commissioners that it was genocide.” The forced sterilization of Indigenous women in B.C. from 1933 to 1973 has been viewed as an act of genocidal intent — undermining the ability of an ethnic minority group to exist. Canada’s federal inspector of residential schools described them to parliament more than a century ago as “a national crime.”

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