The Church Must Follow Through: Accountability for Residential School Crimes
Two decades ago, the Catholic Church faced massive lawsuits of over $100 million for residential school crimes. They found an escape from legal and financial obligations by signing the Residential School Settlement Agreement in 2006, which required a payment of $25 million to residential school survivors and family members for “kind services” such as counselling. The Church paid less than $4 million.
The total net worth of the Catholic Church organization is not available but recently released limited statements show over $6 billion in Vatican Bank holdings. When the value of property, artwork, salaries, and structures is added, the wealth of the Church is beyond numbers. Regardless of their ability to fund their promises, survivors, politicians, and allies are in agreement: it’s time to own up, speak up, and pay up.
In 2012, the Saskatoon Catholic Church community (80,00 + members) raised nearly $29 million to build a new, state-of-the-art cathedral while continuing to largely ignore compensation promises to residential school survivors and descendants. $34,650 was raised for survivors - a weak effort by comparison.
Charlie Angus, NDP Member of Parliament had two meetings with the Pope’s ambassador to Canada, Papal Nuncio, making the message of Indigenous affairs clear “[I] told him the Church must respond to the TRC and Parliament and issue the apology to Indigenous people on Canadian soil.” Angus also told the ambassador to “ignore the Canadian Bishops who have been running interference.” The meetings followed the uncovering of graves at school sites in Kamloops, B.C., and the Cowessess First Nation. The ambassador, Papal Nuncio, told Angus that these situations are “complicated,” to which Angus responded, “Truth is not complicated. It is about having the will to take responsibility and to do the right thing.”
Angus states that Pope Francis will meet directly with Indigenous leaders to discuss the legacy of crimes committed through Indian Residential Schools and hospitals across the country. Angus has maintained that there is a need for the Catholic Church to acknowledge these recent crimes and for accountability to take place. “They refuse to apologize. They refuse to pay. They have yet to turn over the names of the perpetrators of massive abuse … I will continue to hold this institution to account for the crimes committed under its watch.”
Some Edmontonians agree, with investigation underway for a vandalized statue of Pope John Paul II outside a local Catholic Church.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) of Treaty 6 Territory is also calling for the Roman Catholic Church to follow through on promises to provide the $25 million compensation for residential school crimes. Chief Bobby Cameron of the FSIN, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, stated: “Thousands of First Nations children were victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse at these church-run residential schools. They were starved, shamed, and beaten for speaking their languages and stripped of their culture, traditions, and identity. These wrongs were committed by the Catholic Church and our survivors deserve a proper apology and compensation for what was done to them; not broken Promises. For Catholics to raise millions to build multiple multi-million-dollar cathedrals and raise only $34,650 or $0.30 per survivor is shameful. Just as shameful as the acts committed against these little children by the priests, nuns, and institution they worship. If they can’t raise it in their houses of worship here, it should come from the richest organization in the world, The Vatican.”