Canadian archbishop’s sermon fuels anger over residential schools

residential schools anger

Archbishop Richard Gagnon has sparked anger by implying that the church is being persecuted amid widespread attention to gravesite discoveries at residential schools.

Gagnon, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the archbishop of Winnipeg, delivered a homily on Sunday.

The sermon has triggered an intense backlash from many quarters.

In his address, he said that residential schools are “a big thing right now in Canada. I know that we Catholics, we’re troubled, we’re hurt by this a lot in our hearts.”

He said that in his role he is getting “bombarded a lot,” and that in dealing with the media, he’s noticing “a lot of blame, a lot of accusations, a lot of exaggerations, a lot of false ideas.”

“And so I say in my heart,” he said. “You know something? There’s a persecution happening here. There’s a persecution happening here.”

The archbishop’s comments drew ire from Indigenous communities.

“It’s very hard for me to articulate how outraged, disappointed, angry I am. To hear anybody in his position, given what’s happened, talk about feeling that the church in any way is being persecuted,” said Maurice Switzer, a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves on the Indigenous Reconciliation Advisory Group of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

“To me, this just speaks to systemic racism at the highest levels of our society – that anybody, in the wake of what’s being found out, would in any way suggest that they are a victim, given what’s transpired.”

Many in the Catholic community have also been dismayed. George Valin, a retired Ontario Superior Court judge, is one of them.

“Extremely disappointed. Sad. Offended. Embarrassed,” he said, of his reaction to the archbishop’s homily.

From the 1870s to 1996, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forcibly removed from their families. They were placed in a system designed to strip them of their language and culture.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has documented 4,117 children’s deaths at the schools. It estimates there were thousands more.

Recent announcements about radar detection of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at or near former residential school sites have triggered grief and outrage across the country.

The Catholic Church ran about 60 per cent of the schools.

Some bishops at the local level have apologized, as have the heads of some religious orders. Unlike the Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches, however, the Catholic Church’s leader, the Pope, has still not issued a formal, public apology.

Pope Francis has agreed to meet in December with Indigenous survivors of Canada’s notorious residential schools.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said Francis had invited the delegations to the Vatican and would meet separately with three groups — First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

The Canadian bishops said they hoped the meetings would “lead to a shared future of peace and harmony between Indigenous peoples and the Catholic Church in Canada.”


The Globe and Mail

Indian Country Today


Additional reading

News category: World.