Earlier this week, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued its final report on abuse in First Nations/Indian residential schools. It is a document running more than 360 pages, based on six years of testimony from almost 7,000 witnesses. At least 3,200 children died in residential schools. The CBC reports that it includes:
“… stories from survivors, including tales of children taken from parents, siblings separated and abuse and neglect at residential schools.”
Among the 94 recommendations, number 58 calls for an apology from the Pope:
“We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”
I have not yet read the report or begun to research the Canadian TRC in any depth, but I am intrigued by the process because I have often thought that a TRC-type mechanism might be an effective way for victims and survivors of clerical abuse in Ireland to have their stories more publicly recognised and acknowledged.
Although the various inquiries and reports (Cloyne, Murphy, Ryan, Ferns, etc) have put much information in the public domain, in my judgement there has been little that has promoted healing or reconciliation within the church. I am curious whether a TRC-type body could be more effective than the investigative report approach.
So I was quite surprised to see the 2010 ‘apology to Irish victims’ referenced in the Canadian TRC recommendations.
But the recommendation of the Canadian TRC goes further than Ireland’s pastoral letter in that it asks the Pope to personally deliver the apology, in Canada, within a year.
The Vatican’s Embassy in Ottawa, “says the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s demands for the Pope to come to Canada to apologize for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools abuse will be sent to the Pontiff and will be a ‘high priority’”.
But the Catholic hierarchy in Canada have not enthusiastically embraced the idea, with the Archbishop of Ottawa Terrence Prendergast saying it is “asking too much” and is “quite an extraordinary thing to demand.”
This sounds a bit like the type of response victims and survivors have come to expect from the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland. It is a response that features a reluctance to apologise in a way that satisfies victims, and seems to reflect the ‘institutional’ church’s desire to protect the institution, rather than take bold steps and make meaningful gestures.
But Pope Francis is not Pope Benedict, and it remains to be seen how he will react to this call to apologise.
Benedict’s pastoral letter has not done much to promote healing among the Catholic Church in Ireland. Could a personal apology from Francis accomplish a lot more in Canada?