June 12, 2021 Editor

One priest’s message to the church: ‘Shut your mouth and just listen’

Father Paul Bringleson spoke to his congregation in Flin Flon, Manitoba, in a powerful sermon apologizing for residential schools and calling out the failures of Catholic Church leaders--and a Postscript on an Authentic Church

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photo above: Shoes are placed on the lawn outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on June 4, 2021 (Darryl Dyck/CP) 

WN: I think I’ll just shut my mouth and listen . . . You may wish to view the video first, then read some excerpts.

excerpts:

Last Sunday, Father Paul Bringleson of St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church in Flin Flon, Manitoba, delivered a homily about the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools in Canada, and notably, its failure to apologize and account for its “horrendous visible sin.” His message to bishops: “You sit there in your offices knowing that you embody a legacy that we are discovering every year is filled with racism and hatred.” Father Bringleson’s sermon, which he posted on YouTube, ends with an apology to Indigenous people, and a message to church leaders: “Take off your robes, your shoes, and your rings and your crosses. Sit yourself in a chair. And listen. Listen. Listen until it hurts. And keep listening.”

Since the discovery of a mass grave1 in Kamloops, B.C., a number of people within the Catholic Church have expressed disappointment and anger over the Church’s response. Here are Bringleson’s remarks, which stand out for their forcefulness and as a call to action to other priests:

Perhaps like many of you, I spent a good portion of this week without being able to help but hear, listen and read as the discovery [in] Kamloops of the former residential school filled itself out even more.

I was taking a few days alone at my cabin, mostly because I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the whole thing. And I find it nice to be alone sometimes when I’m that frustrated. I don’t think I’ve had a day this week that I haven’t been sick to my stomach. You can’t help but read what’s on social media today. You can’t, as much as sometimes we say we shouldn’t put a whole lot of time and effort into it. And believe me, there is definitely no small shortage of negativity and distortion that can be on there. But if you ever want to get a real pulse of where people are at, generally speaking, it’s not a bad place to start.

One particular statement that stuck with me like a gut punch on Wednesday came from Charles Adler. Many of you might be familiar with him, older people anyway. I started listening to Charles when I first moved to Manitoba back in 1989. He was at CJOB in Winnipeg. I find him a very easy listen. He’s a very open-minded individual who’s allowed himself to be changed by experience that he lives. And by the experience, more importantly of others.

He had a comment on Wednesday that just hit me right in the stomach. And it’s going to hit you, too. One of the expressions that was found to be discovered in the early days of the residential school inquiries that took place over 20 years ago, was a recurrent phrase in both church and government documents that the goal was to take the Indian out of the child. Charles Adler commented that it seems that the priests took the Christ out of Christian. And he’s right. He’s absolutely right.

I can’t explain how this happened. I can’t explain the history of how it unfolded. I can’t explain it at all. I can’t even explain our church’s response to it really clearly and articulately. And I don’t think I’m alone as a priest in being able to acknowledge that. I think we have bishops and priests that can fake it. But I think at the real core of all of our lives, there is a powerlessness here that we just simply don’t have the words.

And all I ever wanted to do was to make God real in people’s lives, to show people what I discovered. But part of being able to do that requires us to be very rigorously honest about who it is we really are as people in the church, that we are as sinful and as flawed as the people we consistently call out and condemn. That’s been a steep learning curve.

For me that came 12 years ago, when I had to get sober, I had to look at my failings as a priest, and the sin of my life as a priest. And it wasn’t an easy path to take. And I think we as a country must look as a church and take that same deep breath, and ask ourselves: how did this really truly happen? And I have all kinds of opinions on that, that, that [are] too long to get into here. But I think it’s safe to say that what we have done isn’t working. Or at the very least, it’s not working as well as it can, or as well as it should. None of this is an accident. This was deliberate, decisions were made, choices were made. And those decisions and those choices were deliberately covered up.

. . . a recurrent phrase in both church and government documents [was] that the goal was to take the Indian out of the child. Charles Adler commented that it seems that the priests took the Christ out of Christian. And he’s right. He’s absolutely right.

It’s no secret that the church has lost a lot of moral credibility, long before the discovery of this grave in Kamloops. And sadly, I believe what they’re saying, there will be more. I don’t know how that happened. It goes against everything we as a church hold dear: the dignity of the dead. I can’t imagine making a choice deliberately to cover that up for any reason.

And so we have lost our credibility. Bishops still write these beautiful, long letters that are all in the head. Bishop, no one reads them anymore. No one reads them anymore. You’re reminding us about our moral lives every day of the bloody week. You’re reminding us how evil abortion is and how I can’t love a man or a woman can’t love a woman. How gay men and women can’t be married and how they can’t have children. You’re telling us that we’re missing mass on Sunday to spend time with our families is a sin. And all the while you sit there in your offices knowing that you embody a legacy that we are discovering every year is filled with racism and hatred.

My dear bishops, my dear priests. We no longer have authority, moral authority, over our people. Stop kidding yourself like you do. You don’t. Take off your robes, your shoes, and your rings and your crosses. Sit yourself in a chair. And listen. Listen. Listen until it hurts. And keep listening. Only then, only then will we ever have a shot at healing.

I am only pastor of St. Ann’s in Flin Flon. To Indigenous people here in my care, in my past, throughout our country I, Paul Bringleson, a priest of the most holy Roman Catholic Church, apologize.

We failed you. It’s time for us to be truly accountable with that, and for that.

For those who have left the church over this, I’m sorry.

For those who stayed, I’m sorry.

Please click on: The priests took the Christ out of Christian.

Postscript:

For a taste of what authentic church looks like, please consider viewing Digital Church of Good Shepherd New York (GSNY). The following is today’s service:

Here are some of GSNY’s particulars as aspirationally practised by them:

Values:

  • Unity
  • Diversity
  • Generosity
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity

Distinctives:

  • Biblical
  • Creedal
  • Sacramental
  • Missional

Personal Appreciation:

  • Inclusive (all races, all genders, all sexualities)
  • Superb liturgical music by multitalented artists
  • Open Eucharistic Table–all are welcome to participate (The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires, take the water of life without cost.–Revelation 22:17)
Footnotes
  1. This is slightly inaccurate. Several gravesites were discovered, not a mass grave.[]

Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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