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Glen Argan: Lack of transparency shatters credibility

  • October 13, 2021

The doctrine of the Trinity provides the clearest insight into the nature of God as love as well as into the fullness of the human person. Christianity is best understood in the light of three divine persons who are infinite, overflowing love. Society could benefit enormously if it understood God as trinitarian love and our call as that of living in light of such love.

This is one major reason why it is sickening to see the way in which Canada’s bishops avoided their responsibility to live up to agreements to provide healing and reconciliation to the survivors of residential schools. Instead of putting their priority on meeting the needs of the oppressed, the bishops sought to protect the financial assets of the Church with a battery of lawyers and accountants.

The shameful spectacle has rightly drawn the scorn of not only Indigenous people and the country’s media, but also numerous faithful Catholics. This spectacle provides the world with an ugly picture of the Church’s inner operations.

Imagine that the CBC and the Globe and Mail had to go to court to discover how the Church has claimed to have provided $28 million of in-kind services to the survivors of the schools! And then to learn that many of these services were for the ordinary operations of the Church — the running of northern missions, Bible study groups and other religious work in Indigenous communities.

Then, there was the so-called “best efforts” campaign to raise $25 million for work with survivors. How many of us heard of this campaign in our parishes? How many were asked to donate? No wonder the “best efforts” raised only $3.7 million. I would gladly have contributed to it. 

Another part of the Church’s promise was to pay $29 million to survivors and Indigenous organizations. The Church fell $1.6 million short, but then it was revealed that almost $6.5 million was spent on expenses such as lawyers, accountants and auditors. The government sued the Church for the shortfall. Eventually a court ruled the government had agreed to accept $1.2 million as a final payment.

It would seem the Church’s decision-makers failed to ask what Jesus would do in these circumstances. Did the Lamb of God hire lawyers and accountants to defend Him before the Sanhedrin? Perhaps instead Jesus would repeat His words: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith” (Matthew 23.23).

Other Christian churches involved in the residential schools settlement simply paid what they were asked to pay. No lawyers, no court cases. It didn’t make them heroes, but at least they did their duty.

Another way of being Church is possible. It is called putting the Gospel first. Be transparent in all matters just as all Catholics are expected to be in the confessional. Justice, mercy and faith are the real business of the Church. Skimming off money meant for the survivors of injustice to pay lawyers and accountants is not the Gospel.

The bishops, to their credit, have issued an unequivocal apology, acknowledging the role of Catholic religious communities and dioceses in residential schools. They also “sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous peoples that continue to this day.”

The bishops have set a $30-million fundraising target over the next five years “to support healing and reconciliation initiatives for residential school survivors, their families and their communities.” Based on the bishops’ record, one may be skeptical. But if the money really is spent on healing for those harmed by the schools — not on religious programs — then a significant step will have been taken.

Part of the Church’s mission is to contribute to the revitalization of our polarized, ideologically driven society. Her resources include respect for the inviolable dignity of the human person, contemplative practice in a noisy, distracted age and the presence of Christ in the sacraments. Instead, her credibility has been shattered by a lack of transparency and a clinging to worldly wealth.

The road back will take time, repentance and humility.

(Argan writes from Edmonton.)

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Well said. Though, lack of transparency is a symptom of a greater problem – lack of accountability. A national “best efforts” campaign could not raise $25 million from over 10 million (actually 12.8 million based on 2011 census) Catholics? “Best...

Well said. Though, lack of transparency is a symptom of a greater problem – lack of accountability. A national “best efforts” campaign could not raise $25 million from over 10 million (actually 12.8 million based on 2011 census) Catholics? “Best efforts”? Really? Not believable. Who was accountable? Not the “Church”. We are told the "Church" does not exist legally in Canada. Besides, professional fundraisers were hired – they are responsible. As if such hiring absolved the “Church” of its responsibility. Now it generously gives itself 5 years to raise $30 million – about 60 cents per year for each Catholic. Please. At any time numerous parishes throughout the country are raising millions to refurbish, renovate or build facilities. It is not believable that the “Church” does not have the capacity to come up with the money now and seek donors later. Capacity, yes; accountability, no.

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