Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast said maybe the Pope can Skype about Indian Residential Schools, but said the TRC asking for a personal apology from Pope Francis is “reaching for the moon.” Photo by Robert Du Broy

Call for papal apology problematic

  • June 10, 2015

OTTAWA - Calls for Pope Francis to come to Canada and personally apologize for abuses at Indian Residential Schools are “reaching for the moon,” said Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.

The Ottawa archbishop has been drawing negative comments for telling media in the wake of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that a request for an apology within a year in Canada struck him as “rather demanding.” He also questioned the stipulation that the apology “address certain things, like the spiritual abuse they suffered.”

“As the Holy Father is known to send written and video messages for special occasions and to phone people at different times, I felt asking something less than his coming to Canada within a year might have had a much better sense of achieving their goal,” Prendergast said in an e-mail when asked for clarification. “Imagine Pope Francis on Skype at an Assembly of First Nations gathering!

“That’s why I said I thought they were reaching for the moon,” he said. “No disrespect but it generally takes a long time to plan a papal visit and there are protocols involved. I didn’t mean to throw cold water on their wish, only to suggest there might be better ways for it to be realized.”

In an interview with the Ottawa Sun, Prendergast noted that the TRC asked for a Royal Proclamation from the Queen but did not ask her to come to Canada to deliver it.

“My question is, is the issuing of apologies going to be a constant demand for years and years? And would the next pope have to say it as well?”

There has already been a papal apology for residential school abuses. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI apologized for abuses at the schools — about 60 per cent of which were run by Catholic entities — to First Nations leaders who met with him in the Vatican.

Winnipeg Archbishop-emeritus James Weisgerber, as president of the Canadian bishops’ conference, played a key role in arranging the meeting with Pope Benedict, Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine and four other First Nations’ leaders. Also present were five former missionaries who worked in the residential schools.

After that meeting Fontaine told a news conference, according to CNS: “We wanted to hear him say that he understands and that he is sorry and that he feels our suffering, and we heard that very clearly.”

Weisgerber said he does not know why TRC commissioners felt they needed to ask Pope Francis for an apology. “Pope Benedict did precisely that.”

Benedict had intended to speak in English, “but because of his deep feeling about this whole thing,” he was afraid he couldn’t express himself as well as he wanted if he spoke English, the archbishop said. So he spoke in Italian through a translator.
Weisgerber said he believes the problem is there is “no direct equivalent to ‘apology’ in Italian.”

“The reality is said in different ways, but there is no direct word, as there is no direct word in French,” he said.

When Weisgerber, Fontaine and the others met the press, “one of the first things people were concerned about was the word ‘apology’ was not present in the Pope’s words,” the archbishop said. “But Phil Fontaine and the other leaders accepted it as an apology and they accepted the apology.

“The key is what was experienced by the leaders who were there,” he said. “I am imagining the TRC people don’t think the Pope Benedict apology was adequate.”

Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, chair of the Catholic Entities, the corporation made up of more than 50 dioceses and religious congregations who were party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, has remained conciliatory. He has promised to bring the commission’s Calls to Action report to the bishops’ plenary in September.

“While the schools no longer exist we have been learning how these former institutions are connected to the rupture that still exists in our relationships,” said Pettipas. “We are learning that reconciliation is not only about the past but is about our present need for justice and is about our capacity together to build a better future.”

CCCB communications director Rene LaPrise said, “Given the years of preparation involved in preparing the TRC report and calls to actions, these deserve time for careful reflection.”

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