The pope’s apology was a start. Now the real work begins, say some Catholics and Indigenous leaders

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Father Michael Kwiatkowski wiped tears from his eyes as he watched Pope Francis apologize to survivors of residential schools on Monday.

“One thing that struck my heart, and I think it would strike the hearts of all parishioners here, is how families were, you know, separated,” he said.

Kwiatkowski leads the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, a community based in Winnipeg’s north end.

He said his parishioners may have been concerned about the war in Ukraine, but they still wanted to be part of this journey of reconciliation.

It’s a sentiment many non-Indigenous Catholics are expressing during the Pope’s penitential pilgrimage to Canada this week.

It reminds them of the pope’s passion for social justice and how he opens his heart to the downtrodden and downtrodden, Kwiatkowski said.

While the Vatican holds considerable wealth, fundraising for reconciliation is the responsibility of each diocese in Canada.

Some want the Pope to apologize on behalf of the Church as a whole

Catholic Church entities there have been criticized for years for failing to raise the $25 million pledged under the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. only $4 million.

Last September, the Canadian bishops again pledged to invest $30 million in healing initiatives. Yet many residential school survivors say reconciliation is about more than money. They are also looking for action.

And many residential school survivors and Indigenous leaders wanted to hear the pope apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church as a whole, not just its individual members. Among them is Murray Sinclair, the former senator from Manitoba who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Murray Sinclair, a former senator and former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said something important was missing from the pope’s apology. (Kim Kaschor/CBC)

The TRC report called for a personal apology from the pope as one of the calls to action in its final report. Yet he still has concerns.

“Despite this historic apology, the Holy Father’s statement left a deep hole in acknowledging the Church’s full role in the residential school system, blaming individual members of the Church. It is important to point out that the Church was not just an agent of the state, nor simply a participant in government policy, but was one of the main co-authors of the darkest chapters in the history of this country,” Sinclair said in a statement.

“Driven by the Doctrine of Discovery and other beliefs and doctrines of the Church, Catholic leaders not only enabled the Government of Canada, but pushed it even further in its work to commit cultural genocide of the peoples indigenous. In many cases, it was not just a collaboration, but an incitement.”

WATCH | The pope’s apology evokes strong emotions:

Pope’s apology stirs strong emotions among some Catholics

Some Catholics say they are moved by the Pope’s apology to Indigenous peoples and feel a duty to be part of the reconciliation process. A professor of religious and theological studies also explains why the pope apologized on behalf of individual members and not the Catholic Church itself.

A man smiles at the camera.
Jeremy Bergen, who teaches and writes in contemporary Christian theology at the University of Waterloo, said he expects the pope’s statements in the coming days to be more nuanced than his initial apology. (Submitted by Jeremy Bergen)

Religious experts have also noticed this distinction in the Pope’s apology.

One thing I was looking for and didn’t hear was an explicit acknowledgment of the complicity of the Church as an institution,” said Jeremy Bergen, who teaches religion and theology at Conrad Grebel University. College, part of the University of Waterloo. He is also investigating the church’s apologies.

“The pope made a distinction, which is important in Catholic theology, between what the members do and what the church does as an institution. And so he recognized the complicity of individuals, I think, including leaders, but individuals rather than the church.”

Bergen said he expects some of the pope’s statements in the coming days to be more nuanced than Monday’s.

Catholic theology teaches that while there may be ‘bad actors’ in the church who sin, it is considered the ‘mystical body’ of Jesus, which does not sin, said Peter Meehan, president and vice-president. Chancellor of St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

The idea of ​​the Church or the Pope as apologetic leader is relatively new, starting with Pope John Paul II – although he never said or implied that the Church itself sinned, said Meehan, who is quick to say that he is a historian of the Catholic Church. and not a theologian.

A man smiles at the camera.
Peter Meehan, president and vice-chancellor of St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo, says the notion of the church or pope apologizing is relatively new. (Submitted by Peter Meehan)

A document from 1964 explained that if we understand the Church as an institution, it is first of all a community – not only the clergy and the bishops but the whole “People of God” – of baptized women and men who receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, both “sinners and saints,” Meehan said.

“A next step for the Church will be to understand that the collective actions of its members – who are part of the people of God – are in fact the actions of the Church, good and bad,” he said.

“As such, apologizing on behalf of the Church when she sins is appropriate because even though she did not teach sin, she – at least some of the People of God – acted sinfully. “

Murita Chua, left, and Rosette Correa, who both work with the Filipino Catholic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, say the pope’s apology gave them a sense of hope. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Murita Chua and Rosette Correa watched the Pope’s apology, then went to Mass.

Members of the Filipino Catholic ministry in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, they were filled with emotion – sadness for the abuse and neglect of residential school survivors, but also hope for a new relationship.

“I felt compassion for all the mothers and fathers whose children were taken from them,” Chua said. She felt the Pope’s sincerity and humility in his request for forgiveness.

Correa said she believed the Pope had apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church.

“We say the church is a holy catholic and apostolic church. Catholic means universal. And so when he apologizes for Christianity as a whole, that also means the Catholic church,” she explained.

“We have to ask them what they expect from us”

Back in Winnipeg, Rachel Suarez-Banmann, a Catholic mother of three, said she was troubled by stories of elders being neglected and abused as children.

“The Catholic Church played an important role in this experience and this trauma,” she said.

Rachel Suarez-Banmann is a mother of three who is troubled whenever she hears the painful stories of neglected and abused Indigenous elders as children in residential schools. She says the Catholic Church needs to ask survivors what they need to heal. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

She hopes residential school survivors will see the Pope’s visit as heartfelt, trust his words, and then see renewed efforts and actions by the Catholic Church.

Suarez-Banmann thinks a lot of that will come down to one-to-one relationships and a humble spirit of listening and learning.

“We, as a Catholic community, must journey with our Indigenous brothers and sisters through the whole process of truth, reconciliation and healing,” she said.

“We cannot, as a church, as a community, dictate what they need. We have to ask them what they need from us.”


Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or recent reports.

A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counseling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

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