Sen. Murray Sinclair: Pope Francis’s apology failed to acknowledge the Church’s full role in residential schools
WINNIPEG — The Honourable Murray Sinclair, former senator and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), issued the following statement on July 26, 2022:
“I want to recognize the importance of the Pope’s apology to Survivors, their families, and communities. For many Survivors, I know that hearing the words of contrition from the Pope was, and is, an important factor in their personal recoveries and growth.
My thoughts and prayers were with them as they listened.
When we set out Call to Action 58 in the TRC final report, the goal was always to have Survivors hear first-hand not only remorse, but an acceptance of responsibility for what they were put through at the hands of the Church and other institutions.
Despite this historic apology, the Holy Father’s statement has left a deep hole in the acknowledgement of the full role of the Church in the Residential School system, by placing blame on individual members of the Church.
It is important to underscore that the Church was not just an agent of the state, nor simply a participant in government policy, but was a lead co-author of the darkest chapters in the history of this land.
Driven by the Doctrine of Discovery and other Church beliefs and doctrines, Catholic leaders not only enabled the Government of Canada, but pushed it even further in its work to commit cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples.
In many instances, it was not just a collaboration, but an instigation.
There are clear examples in our history where the Church called for the Government of Canada to be more aggressive and bold in its work to destroy Indigenous culture, traditional practices and beliefs.
It was more than the work of a few bad actors — this was a concerted institutional effort to remove children from their families and cultures, all in the name of Christian supremacy.
While an apology has been made, that same doctrine is in place.
The Pope and the Church remain silent on the most problematic tenets of its belief system: that Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world should not have the right to practice their own faith, cultures, and traditions.
Reconciliation requires action, not passiveness.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples specifically calls for action to assist in restoring culture, beliefs, and traditions destroyed through past actions as, to fail to do so, allows for the destructive agency to live with the benefit from those past misdeeds.
For the children and descendants of Survivors, it is not enough that you have stopped abusing them, you must act to help them recover, as well as commit to never doing this again.
As the Pope continues his pilgrimage this week to meet First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Survivors, I hope he will take this to heart.
There is a better path that the Church — and all Canadians — can indeed follow: taking responsibility for past actions and resolving to do better on this journey of reconciliation.We must commit ourselves to talk to and about each other with respect.”
[Murray Sinclair, CC, MSC (born Mizanay (Mizhana) Gheezhik; January 24, 1951) is a former member of the Canadian Senate and First Nations lawyer who served as chairman of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2009 to 2015].