A woman takes a picture of the memorial outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. CNS photo/Jennifer Gauthier, Reuters

Peter Stockland: Standing up for truth and fairness

By 
  • June 19, 2021

It is heartening to see Catholic clergy calling out the stream of inaccuracies and exaggerations around the Church’s responsibility for the residential schools debacle.

Cardinal Thomas Collins led the way by protesting the “unfairness” of Prime Minister Trudeau laying on the blame with a proverbial trowel in a speech. The PM, “speaking as a Catholic,” urged lay faithful to pressure Church leaders into atoning for their purported negligence and intransigence. Their sins, he said, included refusal to release records identifying bodies found near the residential school in Kamloops, B.C., and failure to adequately apologize by summoning Pope Francis to Canada to issue a formal mea culpa.

Yet two days before Trudeau spoke in the Commons, Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller had already promised to make available any Church archives not yet provided regarding the Kamloops school. The commitment was heralded by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, academic director at the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at UBC, as a “moment of significant action” by the archbishop.

As for the alleged inadequacy of apologies, Fr. Raymond de Souza has been doing great work pointing out the Church has been actively and continuously engaged in reconciliation since 1991.

What’s essential to emphasize is that none who’ve sought to set the record straight have flinched from acknowledging what happened within the residential schools was an appalling breach of faith with Indigenous people. They have been open that it requires unequivocal condemnation and full repentance. Yet acceptance of guilt does not justify evisceration of truth for practical as well as moral reasons. Just days after the prime minister’s remarks, the Catholic Church on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation at Kamloops was vandalized, leading Chief Roseanne Casimir to issue a statement deploring the graffiti spray-painted inside the century-old building.

Of course, the connection of the vandalism to the prime minister’s words can only be considered correlational, not causal. Yet it underscores the importance of clergy calling for fairness and, even more, prudence lest political point-scoring against the Church spill over into the very dehumanization it presumes to deplore.

Equally important is the willingness of lay Catholics to call out accusations against our faith that abuse the truth. Doing so is not to deny the need to confess and amend grievous wrongs. It is, on the contrary, to prevent future wrongs being committed under the pretext of overt score settling or, in many more cases, simple ignorance of facts.

This is especially true when it comes to media accounts that are clearly based on a failure to do even basic research. Recently, for example, I came across a CTV report that was jaw droppingly stupid in its absolutely upside down misunderstanding of Church doctrine and practice. As a little test, I timed how long it took me to Google the basic information required to report the story correctly. The answer? Twenty four — 24 — seconds, including correcting typos in the search box.

It is utterly unreasonable to expect reporters to know the details of all the world’s faiths. But it is scandalous that major media outlets publish stories produced by reporters unable to acquire even minimal level background so they a) know what they’re talking about, b) have a grasp of what questions to ask, and c) provide information that at least borders on being credible.

As news consumers, but especially as Catholics defending the perfectly defensible good of our Church and our faith, we have an obligation-almost-holy to stand up and demand fairness, yes, but most importantly truth. Charles Lewis, Catholic Register columnist expresses this perfectly with his analogy of a sports writer covering the Toronto Raptors while lacking a scintilla of a grasp of basketball. No media outlet would permit it because no fan would stomach it.

Nor should we. Heartening as it for the clergy to speak up, it’s equally vital that lay voices are heard protecting the Church from errors and outright calumny.

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

Comments (1)

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I AM WONDERING IF , NOT ONLY THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE BUT THE GENERAL PUBLIC, UNDERSTAND WHAT THE MISSION FOR THE CHURCH WAS AT THAT TIME. TODAY'S WORK IN THE MISSION AREAS IS MUCH DIFFERENT. REMEMBER MANY OF THE MISSIONARIES, WHO WERE NOT INVOLVED...

I AM WONDERING IF , NOT ONLY THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE BUT THE GENERAL PUBLIC, UNDERSTAND WHAT THE MISSION FOR THE CHURCH WAS AT THAT TIME. TODAY'S WORK IN THE MISSION AREAS IS MUCH DIFFERENT. REMEMBER MANY OF THE MISSIONARIES, WHO WERE NOT INVOLVED IN EDUCATION, SUFFERED HORRIBLY AT THE HANDS OF SOME TRIBES. WE ALL MADE MISTAKES AND ALL SUFFERED BECAUSE OF MISUNDERSTANDINGS
OF THE ACTIONS UNDERTAKEN BY THOSE WHO THOUGHT THEY WERE DOING THE RIGHT THING!! LET US NOT BE SO VERY QUICK TO PUT BLAME ON ONE SEGMENT OF THE POPULATION. TODAY, MANY OF THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE HAVE RIGHTS AND EXEMPTIONS THAT THE CANADIAN PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE. I HAVE MANY FRIENDS BELONGING TO THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE & I LOVE THEM. LET US BE SLOWER TO CONDEMN, ESPECIALLY WHEN ALL THE FACTS ARE NOT KNOWN. MY DESIRE IS THAT ALL WILL COME TO KNOW THAT GOD LOVES ALL PEOPLE EQUALLY!!!!

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