Photo by Michael Swan

Editorial: A step forward

  • September 30, 2021

As apologies go, the one issued by Canada’s Catholic bishops to Indigenous peoples marks a significant step in this long, long reconciliation journey.

It is not an end to the journey by any means, but the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has set the tone and the stage for a united, nationwide effort in healing.

There have been plenty of apologies from individual bishops and religious orders, but this is the first time an apology has come from the group as a whole. Even though we are often reminded that, legally, there is no “Canadian Catholic Church,” the bishops’ Sept. 24 statement presents a clear picture of the Church’s challenges and hopes on several fronts.

First, there is the acknowledgement of wrongdoing — the “grave abuses” committed by some members of the Church in residential schools. Second, there is the collective voice of sorrow: “We, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, express our profound remorse and apologize unequivocally.”

Third, there is the pledge to fundraise across the country for reconciliation initiatives — most importantly, in conjunction with the local Indigenous communities. Fourth, there is the direct appeal to Indigenous groups to play a direct role in educating all members of the Church — clergy, religious and the faithful — on the legacy of residential schools, and on Indigenous culture and traditions. We all have a responsibility to open ourselves to listen to the truth, absorbing the reality of our collective past and finding the path to “walk in solidarity.”

Finally, there is the glimmer of a papal pastoral visit to Canada in which Pope Francis would bring his personal commitment to the reconciliation process. The bishops were careful not to suggest an apology by Pope Francis on behalf of the whole Church on Canadian soil was imminent, but there is a pledge to keep open the discussions of a visit with the Holy See.

The bishops’ statement, of course, does not please everyone, and perhaps the best reaction the CCCB can hope for is cautious optimism. Some say the apology is way too  late in coming; that the Church has been dragging its feet on serious reparations for too long; that it has been guilty of trying to shelter its past and shift responsibility.

The bishops have found themselves with a real communications problem. Regardless of their sincerity and some very real efforts at healing, there is an understanding that their message of reconciliation has been swamped by a perception of inaction and even denial.

The bishops’ united statement has the potential to change the course of the dialogue.

“I understand that some might think that it’s late and maybe not sufficient,” Bishop William McGrattan of Calgary said. “But we just hope in goodwill that it will be received and we can begin to mend and to restore those relationships.”

As we said, reconciliation is a long, long journey. This was a good step forward.

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