CCCB president Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil at a news conference on Parliament Hill April 18. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Editorial: Misguided debate

  • April 27, 2018

Canadian bishops must not have seen the hornets nest they were stepping into March 28 when they issued a somewhat ambiguously worded letter to Canada’s Indigenous peoples. 

Actually, most of the letter was clear, but what caused an uproar was a single sentence that seems to have been written quite carefully (or very poorly?). It said that although Pope Francis is aware of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission request for him to issue an apology in Canada for Church complicity in residential schools, after careful consideration and extensive dialogue, “he could not personally respond.” In retrospect, those five words in a 629-word message should have been clearly explained if not changed altogether. 

The negative image of a Pope declining to respond became the focus of a letter that, if read top to bottom, clearly states the Pope is open to a future visit and would certainly make Indigenous relations a top priority. It also restated the bishops’ commitment, with the encouragement of the Pope, to advance reconciliation by continuing to acknowledge past moral failings and by engaging in concrete pastoral initiatives across the country. 

But many Native leaders, the media and politicians, angered that the Pope refused to do their bidding on their timetable, have been interpreting the “personally respond” comment as a slap in the face and an indication that the Church is not remorseful. That is false, of course. 

There have been numerous apologies, starting long before Parliament apologized in 2012, from bishops and religious orders that were connected with residential schools. Pope Benedict apologized to Native leaders in 2012 and the current or future Pope will almost certainly come to Canada someday and add their apology. But it won’t happen because politicians snap their fingers.

Parliament is well aware of that. Yet it remains intent on debating and, most likely, passing a motion sponsored by MP Charlie Angus to try to shame the Pope into coming here to apologize now. What hubris. 

Angus has made it clear he aspires to lead his party and, one assumes, the country. He was a first-ballot loser when the NDP picked a new leader last September. The Church is an easy target for someone who might be seeking to raise their national profile. But it’s unfortunate, though unsurprising, that the Liberals and others are aping his misleading rhetoric and brazenly politicizing an issue in a way likely to only harm reconciliation efforts by the Church and others.

Angus calls his kangaroo court an obligation of Parliament. Surely, though, the obligation of Parliament — one it has consistently neglected — is to alleviate Native poverty and suffering by ensuring, for starters, adequate health care, schools, clean drinking water and employment opportunities.

That’s a debate worthy of Parliament’s time.

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