Pope Francis walks in procession as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Rome May 6. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis unlikely to be swayed by apology motion

  • May 8, 2018

OTTAWA – Pope Francis is unlikely to be swayed by a House of Commons near-unanimous motion calling on him to apologize in Canada for abuses at Catholic run residential schools, said Archbishop Richard Gagnon.

“I don’t think the situation has changed any,” said the vice-president of Canadian bishops conference.  

A March 27 letter from CCCB President Bishop Lionel Gendron to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada “pretty well spells out the reality of the Pope’s view of this matter,” Gagnon said.

“I don’t have anything further to say about the motion.” 

That letter stated that the Pope “felt that he could not personally respond” to Call to Action No. 58 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to make an apology on Canadian soil. 

But the Pope has not refused to apologize, or ruled out a trip to Canada, the archbishop said.  

“The Holy Father has not responded to that narrow Call to Action,” Gagnon said.

“In response to the principles involved, he has not closed the door. It seems odd in my mind someone like the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who has done so much for Indigenous people around the world, would turn his back on the Indigenous people of Canada. There must be something wrong with the way it is understood.”

On May 1, MPs voted 269-10 in favour of a motion introduced by NDP MP Charlie Angus to invite the Pope to Canada. Angus subsequently requested that the Speaker of the House of Commons write a letter to Pope Francis requesting the apology.

Angus has blamed the CCCB for the lack of a papal apology in Canada. 

“There’s certainly division within the bishops depending where they are in the country,” he said. “The overwhelming population of Catholics, I think, were appalled at the bishops’ position of not stepping up on reconciliation.” 

Gagnon said the bishops have a variety of views on the matter, which have been shared with the Pope.

“All the bishops do is bring to the table their experiences in different parts of Canada,” Gagnon said. “Just like there are a variety of views, both among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, the bishops bring forward their experience of the people they serve regarding this question.”

The residential school experience is not the same across Canada. Quebec, for example, didn’t have residential schools and the history of the encounter with Indigenous people by French settlers differs from other parts of Canada. 

“In the Maritimes, Indigenous people were in contact with the Church for over 400 years,” Gagnon said. “The majority of the residential schools were in western Canada, where the Indigenous population is much greater.

“I can’t speak for all of western Canada. There is probably more of an openness or consensus on that issue in the West.”

Gagnon also said if the Pope came to Canada, the trip would be about more than making an apology.

“There are many Catholics in Canada,” he said. “It would be a shame for the Holy Father to come to Canada for only one thing.”

Fear of more litigation that might follow a papal apology is not a primary consideration, he said.

As for the cost of a papal visit and how much the government would pick up, “discussions have not proceeded that far,” he said.

“The Pope just doesn’t climb on a plane and fly to Canada. A lot of factors are involved here.”

Gagnon pointed to differences among Indigenous people as well. He referred to the vice president of the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, Irving Papineau, a Mohawk from Akwesasne.

“Irving Papineau said what we hear all the time,” Gagnon said. “Talk of an apology is not high on the list (compared to) the issues they face every day,” he said, including poverty, unemployment, crime and addiction.

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