IDuring his first visit to the country, Pope Francis toured Canada from July 24-29. The main purpose of his visit was to respond to the growing publicity of the residential school scandal in Canada. Part of his visit was to make a formal papal apology in the town of Maskwacis, Alberta. This is the first papal visit to the country in 20 years.
Residential schools were government-sponsored schools, primarily run by churches, established across Canada. They were intended to support the assimilation of Aboriginal peoples (Indians) into Canadian society. Helping to integrate more underdeveloped cultures may seem like a trivial matter, but boarding schools were often the site of horrific abuse. Indigenous children were often forcibly removed from their families to attend school. Physical and sexual abuse were rampant, even torture. A school in northern Ontario punished students with a homemade electric chair. Usually located in remote areas away from prying eyes, clergy-run schools could often do as they pleased, sometimes even against the wishes of suspicious Indian Affairs agents.
Boarding schools were run by the Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, which ran about 60% of the schools. Hence the “call to action” of the Ottawa Truth and Reconciliation Commission:
We call on the Pope to apologize to survivors, their families and communities for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in the Catholic boarding schools. We ask that this apology be similar to the apology issued in 2010 to Irish victims of abuse and that it occur within a year of the publication of this report and be presented by the Pope in Canada.
That was in 2015. Why doesn’t the pope apologize until 2022?
The schools’ legacy has come under scrutiny after news broke of the discovery of 215 presumed unmarked graves at a British Columbia boarding school. The discovery is “presumed” because it used images gathered through the use of ground-penetrating radar as primary evidence. Not a single burial has yet been confirmed.
Much of the recent hysteria around schools is manipulated for political reasons. But there is no denying that horrific abuse has taken place in the school system. It is also undeniable that the Vatican needs to clarify its heritage in the system. In 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology on behalf of the government. All of the other religious denominations involved issued an apology for their role years ago. The Catholic Church was the only organization that did not.
The pressure must have become too great for the Vatican to ignore. In April, the pope received an indigenous delegation at the Vatican.
Here are some excerpts from Pope Maskwacis’ speech:
I am here because the first step in my penitential pilgrimage among you is to ask again for forgiveness, to tell you again that I am deeply sorry. Sorry for how unfortunately many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples. I am sorry. I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the way in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, notably through their indifference, in the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of the time, which resulted in the residential school system. …
What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous mistake, incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is painful to think of how the solid soil of values, language and culture that constituted the authentic identity of your peoples has been eroded and you have continued to pay the price. In the face of this deplorable evil, the church kneels before God and asks forgiveness for the sins of her children.
I wish to reaffirm it myself, with shame and without ambiguity. I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples.
There are several things to note about Francis’ speech. Many times he seemed to shift the blame as much as he could. Usually he referred to “Christians” as the perpetrators of crimes. The Catholic Church ran the majority of schools, but Francis seemed to downplay the leading role played by the Catholic Church. He only mentioned “Catholics” once in his speech, stating, “I will continue to encourage the efforts of all Catholics to support Indigenous peoples.”
Again, the Catholic Church was not alone in running residential schools. But the other churches involved have long since apologized. Archbishop Michael Peers of the Anglican Church of Canada apologized in 1993. The Presbyterian Church apologized in 1994. The United Church apologized in 1998.
His statement that “many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the native peoples” is a veiled blow to the British Empire. The implication is that the Catholic Church did not commit the crimes itself. On the contrary, he aided and abetted the real criminals (“the colonizing powers”). Francis asked “forgiveness… for the way in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, especially through their indifference, in the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of the time.”
No one is suggesting that the Catholic Church alone is responsible. But there is a big difference between “cooperating out of indifference” and actively abusing and torturing children.
Pope Francis did not mention the money the Catholic Church promised residential school survivors in a 2006 settlement. The church announced a California$30 million (we$23.5 million in 2006 value) to residential schools, their families and communities. The church ended up giving less than California$4 million, citing fundraising issues. But he had no problem spending California$128 million to renovate the cathedral in Toronto, Ontario, completed in 2016.
The church also refuses to submit its residential school records to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.
The Canadian government was not impressed by the pope’s apology. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said in an interview that there were “gaps” in the apology. He pointed to Francis’ omissions on sexual abuse and blaming the Roman Catholic Church as an organization. Miller compared Francis’ apology with Pope Benedict XVIThe 2010 apology for the role of the Catholic Church in Irish schools, where similar atrocities were committed. Benoît addressed both concerns in his letter. “It’s a clear distinction between the two,” Miller said. “The discrepancies speak for themselves.”
This is not the only scandal to rock the Vatican. In 2020, the German branch of the Catholic Church admitted the Church’s complicity with the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. There is the ongoing story of the Vatican pedophilia scandals. And there’s the pope’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the ongoing Ukraine crisis.
Yet, one way or another, the Catholic Church continues to weather its crises. No matter how bad the scandal is, Roman Catholicism is still the largest religion in the world. The papacy is still one of the most respected institutions in the world. Regardless of its scandals, the Vatican remains powerful and popular.
There is a strange dichotomy with the Vatican. It’s a dichotomy that many see but few understand. And there are many others who don’t even notice it.
TheTrumpet.com editor Brad Macdonald writes in The Holy Roman Empire in Prophecy:
The Roman Catholic Church is the most recognizable and illustrious religion on Earth. Worldwide, it has more than 1.2 billion followers, around 400,000 priests and some 221,000 parishes. Catholicism is present on all continents and in all nations. Tens of millions of Catholics conscientiously attend services each week. Around the world, Catholic priests and authorities are invited to contribute to conversations, public and private, about religion, politics, culture, morals, and virtually every other topic.
More than 5 million tourists flock to Vatican City every year. They come to admire Michelangelo’s legendary frescoes, to attend mass in the Sistine Chapel and in the hope of catching a glimpse of the most revered figure on the planet: the Pope.
Yet despite its worldwide ubiquity, colossal fame, material splendor and long history, the Catholic Church is an enigma. Even to lifelong Catholics.
The Catholic Church claims to be God’s “light of the world” on Earth. It supports hospitals, orphanages, schools and other care institutions around the world. The Vatican Museums present her as the guardian of Western culture and civilisation. Yet behind its cultured and benevolent exterior hides an institution guilty of some of humanity’s worst atrocities, such as the Crusades and the Inquisition. As Macdonald writes, the Catholic Church is an enigma. He can look like a lamb while acting like a dragon.
The residential school scandal shows that clerical atrocities are not just relegated to history. We still deal with them today.
There is more to the story than meets the eye. This is not simply the story of a flawed but well-meaning institution trying to come to terms with a difficult past. The roots of the current Vatican path are deeply rooted in its history. By understanding its history, you can know where the Vatican is heading, even in the near future.
To learn more, request a free copy of The Holy Roman Empire According to Prophecy.