Papal apology: A Canadian perspective

The following unsigned editorial was first printed in The Catholic Register, Toronto, Canada. It is reprinted here with permission as a guest commentary.

The muting of approval following Pope Francis’ wholesale, emotional and historic apology on Canadian soil for the “evil” done to Indigenous people has come in two forms.

One is an entirely understandable cautionary response from Indigenous people themselves — often political leaders on First Nation’s territories — who voice appreciation for the pontiff’s words but insist speech is but a preliminary to reconciling action. Given the history of sweet promises and bitter betrayal Indigenous people have experienced for centuries, the caveat qualifies as wisdom.

The second is the predictable sour approach of a swath of secular journalists who are covering the papal penitential visit as though it were a garden-variety campaign by generic political figures subject to the Iron Law of Election Reporting: Find the negative and amplify. Of course, its source is primarily the fundamental intellectual laziness that attracts an alarmingly high percentage of practitioners to the journalistic craft. But to consume much of the coverage is to detect more than a mere soupcon of good old-fashioned anti-Catholic hostility as well.

The hostility plays out in classic media gas-lighting fashion:

• First, excoriate the church at every opportunity for its failure to apologize to Indigenous people with the exact degree of abjectness and in the precise manner demanded.

• Second, when the church does follow the jots and tittles of the apology script insisted upon, as Pope Francis has now done twice since April, eviscerate it for behaving as though an apology actually means something real.

• Third, and here’s the real snake oil part, persistently neglect to mention that the church in Canada is already raising $30 million that will be deployed, exclusively under First Nations’ direction, for the healing of wounds inflicted by the Indian Residential Schools and the policies that justified them.

Pope Francis prays at the Ermineskin Cree Nation Cemetery before meeting with First Nations, MÈtis and Inuit communities at Maskwacis, Alberta, July 25, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Nor have Canada’s Catholic bishops made only lofty promises to raise the $30 million. As The Catholic Register reported five days before Pope Francis arrived, the all-Indigenous national board has already underwritten the first project. Using some of the $4.6 million raised to date by Catholics, the Cote Culture Camp in Saskatchewan, northeast of Regina, put “children and youth in practical touch with their language, ceremonies, history and heritage through land-based instruction and continuing language classes,” our Associate Editor Michael Swan reported.

More, without question, will follow. Does that obviate the church taking further action in the future to redress past wrongs? Does it make the evil and sins for which Pope Francis apologized simply go away? By no means. Making good things happen doesn’t mean wrong things never happened. Wrongs are history. They endure. But actions, particularly actions that seek genuine forgiveness, can be signifiers of change, indeed, of progress.

Indigenous people have every right to choose to test the reality of that progress to their satisfaction. But that must be carefully distinguished from media negativity and, yes, measures of journalistic animus toward Holy Mother Church, intended to wrap the papal visit in a shroud of sour insignificance.

Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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