'Assembly of First Nations representatives walk outside St. Peter's Square after performing in the square at the Vatican March 31, 2022. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Editorial: Respect the facts

  • April 1, 2022

Neither truth nor reconciliation is served by claims that cannot be reconciled with what is known to be true.

It’s a simple enough axiom yet one that seems to have confounded a bewildering number of people in the aftermath of findings of unmarked grave sites at Canadian Indian Residential Schools in 2021. We can only pray that its clarity and cruciality will be recovered and respected following the meetings between Indigenous groups and Pope Francis in Rome.

Indeed, we must pray because it seems axiomatic that plain facts alone are insufficient to produce truth that will set us free.

To take one glaring example, journalists, including Catholic journalists whose commitment to truth is no mere matter of professional ethics but an obligation of faith, persist in reporting that remains of 215 children were found at the Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C. The statement is flatly false. As of last week, no remains had been found at the former school.  What has been found is evidence of subterranean disturbances that anthropologists say conform to potential graves. At the outside, there might have been discovery of a bone from a very young child. That has yet to be confirmed. Indigenous leaders themselves have been forthright in saying only excavation of the site will verify human remains.

Until such verification is made, we are in a holding pattern of probabilities. Does that mean dismissing Indigenous witness to the horrors of the Indian Residential School system? By no means whatsoever. Does it absolve the Church of the infamies that occurred in those schools under its jurisdiction? In no way. The Holy Father met Indigenous delegates precisely because their overall witness has proven unimpeachable, and the Church’s responsibility must be borne and repented.

Both demand, however, a spirit of whole truth. Only it can provide true reconciliation. To countenance less, even at the level of journalism, walks the crooked path of post-modernists who perpetuated the fallacy that history and fiction are essentially of one substance with discourse.

After inflicting enormous damage, the post-modern wrecking crew was stopped in its tracks by those like historian Richard J. Evans who, in his book In Defence of History, said bluntly: “Auschwitz was not a discourse. The gas chambers were not a piece of rhetoric. And if this is true of Auschwitz, then it must be true at least to some degree of other past happenings, events, institutions, people as well.”

Facts exist, Evans was saying, even when they make us face horrible histories. The Indian Residential School system is just such a horrible history. Respecting its facts guides us reliably to larger truths of experience and witness. Present to those larger truths, genuine trust leading to full reconciliation can develop, then flourish. Absent them, we are each left serving up fallacies that feed only our own self-interest.

And after last week, would that not be one of the great tragedies of history?

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