Flames engulf St. Jean Baptiste Church in Morinville, Alberta, June 30, 2021, in this still image taken form video obtained from social media. The early morning fire destroyed the century-old Catholic church near Edmonton and is being treated as suspicious by Royal Canadian Mounted Police. CNS photo/Diane Burrel, social media via Reuters

Editorial: Vandals solve nothing

  • August 12, 2021

First it was grief, then it was anger, then it was destruction.

It has been a summer of trying times for the Church in Canada, in fact all Canadians, as the dark legacy of residential schools presses evermore into our consciousness.

Beyond the tragic trail of history and the search for answers and reconciliation, a truly sad consequence has been the flagrant attacks on church buildings across this country. Armed with the vitriolic words spilling out against the Church from so many corners, a hooligan minority has decided they have a licence to vandalize and destroy places of worship.

By mid-July, dozens of reports of vandalism or fire at Christian churches had been filed, the majority of them Catholic — at least 57 according to data collected by the True North website. On the eve of Canada Day, there were 11 incidents of vandalism at churches in Calgary, police reported. In Vancouver, police are pleading for assistance in tracking down the culprits involved in 13 incidents of mischief or vandalism against churches over a six-week period. Five churches on First Nations land in B.C. have been destroyed by fire.

The path of reconciliation has given way to retribution. It has been fed by ignorance and anger, and serves no purpose other than to fan the flames of bitterness.

“Destroying property will not help us build the peaceful, better and accepting Canada we all want and need,” said Perry Bellegarde before stepping down as chief of the Assembly of First Nations last month. “I believe in processes that unite rather than divide. Violence must be replaced by turning to ceremony and all that our old people taught us about peaceful co-existence and mutual respect. Thoughtful dialogue, not destruction, is the way through this.”

Of course it is.

The Catholic Church by no means is trying to absolve itself of responsibility for the abuses by some in the residential schools it ran — just as the federal government must accept its role as the creator of these schools and the policy that sought to assimilate Indigenous people by eradicating their culture.

The vandalism against Christian churches is not an understandable reaction — it is a crime against all who seek real justice.

Still, while we like to think that most Canadians take an intelligent and fair approach to most things, we also know there is an emotional response. So while there is widespread condemnation for acts of violence, we know many Canadians’ opinion of the Church has fallen dramatically in light of recent events.

That reality will weigh heavy on Canada’s bishops during their annual plenary Sept. 20-24, to be held virtually for the second straight year. Even dealing with the fallout from COVID-19 is likely to be pushed down the agenda list in the wake of the scope of issues emanating from the residential school file.

Faith in God is not the issue, but faith in religious institutions is, and Catholics are looking to their leaders for collective action and inspiration. We pray they find it.

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