Pope Francis’s apology needs to come with accountability from the Catholic church

When the Catholic entities that ran Indian residential schools commit to meaningful reparations, the need for yet further apologies will end

Pope Francis
✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | OCTOBER 30, 2021 • Current Events

THE CANADIAN CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS announced Wednesday the Pope’s acceptance of their invitation to visit Canada “on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation.” In December, a delegation of Indigenous survivors, elders, knowledge keepers and youth will travel to the Vatican to discuss the details.

The arrival to Canada of Pope Francis will fulfill the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #58:  “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 Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.”

There have been a number of apologies from the Catholic entities that ran Indian residential schools in Canada. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate delivered theirs at Lac Ste. Anne in July of 1991, “for the part we played in … cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious imperialism,” and in 1997 the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement of regret for the pain and suffering caused by the residential school system. In 2000, the Great Jubilee, Pope John Paul II appealed for forgiveness in a summary confession of over 100 crimes, including the abuse of children in Catholic-run institutions. Along the way there have also been low-profile, local apologies, delivered by bishops and archbishops from the pulpit.

But there’s never been an apology from the Pope, delivered to Indigenous people, on Canadian soil. When the residential school lawsuits began in the 1990s, Canadian bishops adverted to the decentralized and even anarchic nature of the business: there is no “Canadian Catholic Church,” they asserted, and therefore no ecclesiastical leader or entity to litigate. Yet when the Indigenous delegation arrives at the Vatican this December, they will tread upon the soil of an exclusive and sovereign dominion, a landlocked theocracy presided over by the Vicar of Christ and placed beyond secular authority by the 1929 Lateran Treaty with Mussolini.

The former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, travelled to Rome for a 2009 private audience with Pope Benedict. At the time he considered the Pope’s expression of regret a significant and sufficient achievement, but now says his words were taken out of context and misconstrued. Now Fontaine thinks it’s a different time and an apology on Canadian soil, in an Indigenous community, is required.

Survivors of physical and sexual abuses suffered in the Indian residential schools have told me that apologies help. Apologies affirm in public what former students have long known in private — that they were vulnerable and defenceless children, abused by those in whose care they were entrusted. As crimes of the worst kind imaginable, these abuses cry out for acknowledgement, justice, and remedy. Apologies can have restorative power, when done properly.

And then there’s doing it badly. There have been apologies of various kinds for 30 years now. There has also been a court-supervised settlement with 48 Catholic entities, called the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. As I’ve written before, lawyers for the Catholic entities took advantage of loopholes in the agreement that they themselves negotiated, in order to minimize their legal and financial burdens. Their reparation scheme funnelled dollars and church efforts into existing business lines, underwriting church and membership building initiatives they would have undertaken anyway.

You may have noticed that there are no calls for further Anglican, Presbyterian or United church apologies. These denominations committed to truth, healing and reconciliation, while the Catholic leadership has thus far committed to the cardinal priorities of asset management and pew-filling. The church’s insistence on regarding a global crisis of child abuse and coverups as an internal pastoral matter, a call to restore those abused to their diminished flock, is not a serious acceptance of responsibility.

The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement failed to hold the Catholic entities to account because it was larded with the assumption that an honour system would suffice, and that the Catholic entities could be counted upon to do what is right. This trust was abused, by an institution that has earned a reputation precisely for the abuse of trust. So by all means an apology, but also accountability, not only to law but to the standards of ordinary human decency. When the Catholic entities commit to meaningful reparations and make genuine efforts that help to restore Indigenous land, cultures, languages, ceremonies and governance, the need for yet further apologies will end. ⌾

The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement allowed the Catholic Church to escape justice

It failed residential school survivors, and it failed the many Catholics of goodwill who expected better of their spiritual leaders

Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement
✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | OCTOBER , 2021 • Current Events

WHEN THE INDIAN RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL lawsuits began in the 1990s, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops proclaimed that “the Catholic Church as a whole in Canada was not associated with the Residential Schools” and that legal responsibility fell upon the individual dioceses and religious communities — the Jesuits, Oblates, Grey Nuns, Sisters of Providence, Daughters of Jesus, and so on.

This opening gambit would be succeeded by others, of an equally insincere and squalid nature, to minimize the liabilities of a church implicated in ongoing scandals of physical and sexual abuse. The CCCB well knew the communities and dioceses who’d managed residential schools had in many cases dissolved or relocated to distant jurisdictions, conveniently beyond the reach of Canadian courts.

At a time of mounting pressure, to say nothing of peril, the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) yielded an opportunity to make the headlines and headaches go away. The Catholic dioceses and religious congregations conjoined in the laboriously christened “Corporation of Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement (Agreement),” or CCEPIRSS, to negotiate with residential school survivors and the federal government. The largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history, the IRSSA also involved the Presbyterian, Anglican and United churches.

In 2006, I was a senior manager at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, a not-for-profit national funding agency established in 1998 with a $350M federal grant and mandated to fund community-based projects addressing the intergenerational legacy of Indian residential schools. Our organization had productive, frequent and warm collaborations with leaders of the United Church, the Presbyterians, and the Anglicans. But our relationship with the Catholics was challenging. That relationship began when, without informing us, their lawyers injected the AHF into the settlement agreement as their partner. We discovered this through our colleague David MacDonald, a special adviser to the United Church and a former cabinet minister in the Joe Clark government, who provided us with a draft of the negotiations.

Schedule O-3 of the IRSSA, the 75-page settlement on behalf of the 48 Catholic Entities, committed the Catholics to a seven-year, best-efforts $25-million Canada-wide fundraising campaign, $25 million of in-kind services, and $29 million in “healing and reconciliation commitments” to be administered by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. I was in the room in February 2007 when AHF senior management sat down with the Catholic Entities lawyer to work out the details of a collaboration that was forged in our absence. The Catholics wanted something big, something that would draw attention, and they wanted enough control to ensure a funding stream for their existing outreach work with Indigenous people. We listened, and we deliberated their proposals, but we told them that $29 million was too little for their ambitious plan. The best approach, in our view, was to direct the money into our network of existing projects.

Subsequent events would prove that Schedule O-3 of the agreement was too vague, as well as unenforceable. In the end, the Catholic lawyers accepted our recommendations. The settlement agreement did little more than bind us together. There was no direction, and no plan. With the exception of the Canada-wide fundraising campaign, which was a meant to elicit donations from parishioners, no timeframes or payment schedules were provided. There were no consequences for non-compliance or failure to meet targets. (Speaking of targets: four years into its mandate, the Canada-wide campaign was reporting a loss of over $1 million.) The Catholic Entities lawyers set themselves to reducing the amounts of the settlement, deducting millions in legal fees and administration costs and loans. The agreement allowed for this, too, but without defining a reasonable administration cost.

The fundraising campaign amassed under $4 million, well short of the $25-million goal. According to a document produced by federal lawyers, an accountant for the Catholic Entities reported the provision of $25 million worth of in-kind services, with “no basis on which to value these services” except minutes from meetings. Where did the money go? As Jason Warick reported on the CBC on Sunday, it went into “attempts to evangelize and convert Indigenous people,” just as I’d inferred was their agenda in the February 2007 meeting.

As for the healing and reconciliation commitments, the lawyers reduced the $29 million for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation to $18 million, with administrative deductions. Payments were slow to arrive. We sent letters to the government, and the government put pressure on the Catholic Entities. It was a nightmare for our accountants, who never knew when the money would arrive and in what amount. When $1.6 million remained of the $18 million, the lawyers claimed it for legal fees. That’s when the federal government intervened and took them to court.

In the end, a miscommunication between the federal and Catholic lawyers enabled the Catholic Entities to exchange $1.2 million for their release from obligations of the IRSSA. Lawyers for the federal government claimed that they had not agreed to a general release, but upon appeal the court ruled that “the balance of the record” proved otherwise. From the beginning to the end, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement did not deliver justice or reconciliation, so far as the Catholic Church was concerned. That the settlement did not deliver justice and reconciliation is evident in the ongoing calls for apologies, and from the recent pledge of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops of $30 million for healing and reconciliation. The IRSSA furthermore failed residential school survivors, and it failed the many Catholics of goodwill who expected better of their spiritual leaders. ⌾

Joseph Ratzinger Should Be Remembered for His Crimes

Joseph-Ratzinger

JAMIE DOWARD’S April 24, 2005 Guardian column, “The Pope, the letter and the child sex claim,” closes with the assertion that the reign of Benedict XVI may well be judged in relation to the sexual crimes and criminals long cloistered by the Vatican, and indeed Mr. Ratzinger himself. As the current Pope departs, the time is full for a summation of these crimes as well as these criminals.

As consequence of the courage and tenacity of the victims — of which there are as many as ten thousand, according to the John Jay College report — an indictment of the church’s topmost offices may now be assembled. For years, rarely a month has passed without some new and lurid disclosure thickening the already rotten stench of a closed-rank institution obsessed with its self preservation. In January we were informed of the Cardinal Roger Mahony’s removal from duties and the release of priest files which contain the “terribly sad and evil” acts (as Archbishop Gomez termed them) committed throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

This latest revisiting of a decade-long, international outrage recalls what is perhaps the most notorious case of Boston’s then Archbishop, Bernard Law, whose cover-ups of child rape led to disgrace and resignation late in 2002. Since that time many thousands of allegations have issued, and a disgusting pattern of institutional obfuscation and evasion, guided from the very top, has emerged. The rot did not begin with the Holy See’s current Pontiff, as Gratian’s De Poenitentia shows. An internal discussion over management of sexual crimes — or sins, if you prefer — has run across the centuries. What has changed is the capacity of the Catholic church and its agents to appoint themselves the exclusive judge and jury. Of this depraved and failed effort, let the public record show that Joseph Ratzinger was a leading proponent.

Modern-day policy derives from Vatican documents of the 1960s. Having anticipated a public scandal, the church under John Paul II initiated an internal investigation, under the auspices of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — an office earlier known as the Roman Inquisition and placed in 1981 under the Prefect Ratzinger. Doward’s two Guardian columns of April 24 — the second is titled “Pope ‘obstructed’ sex abuse inquiry” — capture the tone and substance of the present Pope’s effort to contain the uncontainable, by deferring to the long-standing policy of secrecy and silence, “under the penalty of excommunication” for renegade priests.

For as long as possible, the Vatican enforced the secrets. For as long as possible, senior officials arrogated to themselves the roles of judge and jury. When these efforts collapsed soon after 2000 under the weight of public disclosure, scrutiny and outrage, Mr. Ratzinger charged the crimes to the accounts of secularism, asserting that “pedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children.” Suddenly the church, that sacred chalice from which alone flowed the absolute knowledge of beauty and moral rectitude and God’s Truth, was simply an unwitting victim of moral relativism.

The truth however is more nuanced than that, and less amenable to the Vatican’s propaganda. Whatever one may say of moral relativism, it happens that every step forward, under Benedict XVI, was compelled by secular pressure. Once the multiple defensive tactics had failed, apologies were issued and commitments to doing better were made. In Ireland, the church was compelled by law to report crimes to secular authorities, while in Canada a flood of lawsuits brought lawyers for the Catholic Entities into negotiations of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.

In the meanwhile, the disgraces of both Bernard Law and Roger Mahony were rewarded by Ratzinger with rich appointments — in particular to the Roman Curia, the central governing body of the Catholic church. Both Law and Mahony participated in the Papal Conclave which selected the now-retiring Vicar of Christ, as Mahony will do once again in the choosing of a successor. Also participating in the 2005 conclave was Ratzinger-ally and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who in 2010 characterized abuse allegations as “petty gossip of the moment” and who seven years earlier had intervened on behalf of the convicted sexual abuser Marcial Maciel in an effort to shut down the investigation.

With filth such as this at the very core of the Vatican, we should not be surprised that above all imperatives obtains a cardinal injunction to somehow renew and revive an institution caught in the act. Mr. Ratzinger’s Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, for example, dwells pitifully upon the tribulations of the Roman Church in the late 1600s, inadvertently reminding us of a more recent Ireland and more recent sacrifices of children to the same sordid religious tribalisms. Joseph Ratzinger not only failed to renew the Catholic church — he created the very conditions which will make a meaningful renewal improbable.