A show or real reconciliation

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What will the pope’s visit to Canada actually achieve for reconciliation?

News Unsettled Native Students Union column
Graphic provided by the Native Students Union.

In June 2021, in response to the uncovering of 215 unmarked graves at Kamloops residential school. Pope Francis offered a thread of tweets. Now, he has agreed to come to Canada to meet with Indigenous leaders, but what will a papal visit really do?

When 215 unmarked graves were uncovered in May 2021, there were many calls for the papacy to formally address their role in the residential school system and for the pope to offer a formal apology to residential school survivors.

Neither apology nor accountability came, however. Pope Francis’ twitter account tweeted about the news of the 215 children in June. This one, 43-word tweet expressed “closeness” to “the Canadian people” after the news. This tweet, along with one other brief message to turn away from the “colonial model,” were two of six tweets that day, the other four having nothing to do with the news.

Neither of these tweets addressed the role of the Catholic church in the residential school system, and neither of them came close to being any sort of apology.

Despite there being constant calls from residential school survivors, activists, and even the federal government, the Catholic church has done little to repent for their role.

According to CTV, Archbishop Donald Bolen of the Archdiocese of Regina offered an apology on the diocese’s website, however, that is where any shred of apology ends.

Not only has the Vatican dodged an apology, but there are also several actions that the church has not taken that are vital to Truth and Reconciliation.

In July, the CBC went through and compiled an overall amount that the Catholic church has spent on building projects. $25 million was promised to residential school survivors, yet less than four million in payment has been given out. The CBC determined that since that $3.9 million was distributed as a ‘best effort’ the Catholic church has spent close to $300 million on building projects.

Beyond money and formal apology, the Vatican has also refused thus far to releasing records that they possess pertaining to the residential school system in Canada. The Canadian government has destroyed 15 tonnes of documents relating to the residential school system, so the Vatican is the one governmental body that still has possession of many of these records.

Without addressing the church’s role to fulfill the truth of truth and reconciliation, and without any apology to even begin the reconciliation process in truth and reconciliation, what has been done? Almost nothing.

So, what will a papal visit accomplish?

A ‘visit’ will do nothing without the fulfillment of all these other aspects. Virtually nothing is known about the specifics of the visit so far, just that it will be happening at some point.

Unless the pope comes, looks in the eyes of residential school survivors and apologizes, provides the reparations that were promised, and releases the documents that the Vatican is hiding, nothing will change. No healing can take place.

Indigenous people know it better than anyone: be wary of vague commitments and promises. The pope’s visit may do more harm than good. There is not even an itinerary yet, and already Catholic Deacons in Canada, like  Deacon Lafond, Indigenous education scholar at St. Thomas More College, are claiming that Indigenous suffering does not need to “preclude celebration.” There can be no celebration at this type of meeting while Indigenous people are still suffering ongoing impacts of the atrocities committed by this institution.