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While Pope apologizes, Canadian churches burn

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 08, 2022

Last Friday Pope Francis apologized for the role of the Church in Canada’s residential schools. This Friday at The Catholic Thing, David Warren raises questions about the angry complaints that prompted that apology.

The history of the residential schools is not a happy one. Children of Canada’s indigenous tribes were taken away from their families, housed in substandard facilities, and encouraged to abandon their cultural heritage. The Pope was right to apologize for the involvement of Catholic institutions in “the abuse and disrespect of your identity, your culture, and even your spiritual values.”

But let’s bear in mind that it was not the Catholic Church that conceived the idea of opening these residential schools; it was the Canadian government. And if the facilities were inadequate—if the schools did not feed the students properly, provide medical care, or even bury the dead—that was because the government did not supply enough funds to maintain decent standards. Most of the residential schools were operated by Catholic religious orders, as charitable ventures. But that is no reason to blame the Church for all the failures of the government’s program.

During the past year, however, a propaganda campaign has pinned the responsibility on the Church for a program described as “cultural genocide.” That campaign has been fueled by the discovery of “mass graves” at some of the residential schools. Anger against Catholicism has boiled over, resulting in a series of arson attacks on churches. The Church’s mistreatment of native children is universally condemned by the mass media; the vandalism and desecration of churches are not.

Warren writes:

The idea that the Catholic Church had, now or in the past, committed actual genocide on such a scale, was intrinsically improbable. This would have been grasped a generation ago by most Canadian adults.

Today, unfortunately, verbal attacks on the Church encounter virtually no public resistance—even from the Canadian hierarchy. So no one questions the choice of the Church as primary villain in this drama. No one even questions the reports of mass graves, although, Warren reminds us, “to this day not one body has been exhumed of the thousands supposedly ‘discovered.’”

So what is the cause for this year’s angry campaign against Catholic institutions? Warren sees it as the “demonization of the Catholic Church.” He regrets the failure of Catholic institutions to counter the vitriolic propaganda, saying that “the Catholic Church must also suffer when she feeds her defenders to the dogs, in this dishonest environment.”

The papal apology seems unlikely to satisfy the demands of tribal leaders, who applauded the Pope’s words but characterized them as “only a first step.” The next step, they announced, would be for the Pontiff to visit Canada and make the apology in person. Meanwhile, Warren observes, the papal apology will be treated “as if it were a formal admission that all the charges made against the Church were true.” So the continued desecration of churches is more likely, not less.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Apr. 11, 2022 9:28 AM ET USA

    It's much easier, and more fashionable, to attack the Church rather than the Canadian government in charge of the residential schools program. Justin Trudeau has been the leading voice to deflect the blame.

  • Posted by: Tex132 - Apr. 09, 2022 10:37 AM ET USA

    Nailed it again, Phil. Having Native American friends it pains me to see how badly some of them hate the Church. TY for providing an accurate picture of what really happened.