July 30, 2022 Wayne Northey

Pope Francis says Catholic Church committed cultural ‘genocide’ of Canada’s Indigenous peoples

Pope says he must slow down pace of travel due to health issues

Listen to this article

Jul 30, 2022

by Christopher White

Christopher White is the Vatican correspondent for NCR. His email address is cwhite@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @CWWhiteNCR.

Vatican

This article appears in the Pope Francis in Canada feature series. View the full series.

image above: Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Iqaluit, in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, to Rome July 29, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

WN: While the pope clearly cannot reverse all the evil done by the Church, the direction he is headed is captured in the article thus:

“That is the problem of many today who claim to be traditionalists. They are not traditionalists, they are backwardists,” said the pope. “Tradition is the root of inspiration in order to go forward in the church.”

I respond with a hearty Amen! And while I never agreed to say this of English royalty, I exclaim:

God save the Pope!

I offer another hearty Amen! to remarks on this by my dear friend, Jesuit-educated Gerry Ayotte:

From observing the CBC’s (among other media outlets’) coverage of this pastoral visit by Francis, however, I’m left with a sense that the greatest obstacle to this historical racist agenda of the Catholic Church must surely have been the deep respect apparently manifested by all other Canadians during that historical era – indeed by the British Empire corporately –  for the rights and the inherent dignity of First Nations people. I must say, though, that I find it hard to reconcile this with my memory of the racist characterizations I recall being common to the culture as I was growing up in Canada; or the ghettoization and marginalization of Indigenous peoples in Canada who are even now left deprived of even the fundamental necessities required for adequate health (water, for example, and access to clinics and hospitals).

The words and actions of Pope Francis, heartfelt as they clearly were and are, and representative of the remorseful spirit of so many Catholics collectively, offer the consolation that Christ’s longing for a peoples more committed to compassionate justice and love has found hope.

But I wonder–has  the “force” which seeks to undermine this desire of Christ found a more insidious way to enter the hearts of many of us Canadians in what might seem our projection of culpability onto people and institutions outside ourselves?

Gerry puts his finger on the deep-seated universal cultural scourge called scapegoating. This  awareness is the genius of another Catholic thinker, the brilliant anthropologist, René Girard. You may click on his name for much on this website about his compelling cultural research on scapegoating, and so much more. Along with Gerry’s comments, please view this chart:It was used in my post:

Black Toronto residents 20 times more likely to be shot dead by police, study says, May 30, 2020.

We read in that article of the source of the above chart, including this commentary:

I must say, though, that I find it hard to reconcile this with my memory of the racist characterizations I recall being common to the culture as I was growing up in Canada; or the ghettoization and marginalization of Indigenous peoples in Canada who are even now left deprived of even the fundamental necessities required for adequate health (water, for example, and access to clinics and hospitals).

Yet I have a close relative who vigorously denies any significant claims of Canadian racism against nonwhites. This is so uninformed and downright bigoted when Canada’s main news magazine, Maclean’s, published this article under the title: “Canada’s race problem? It’s even worse than America’s.”, by , In it we read:

The racial mess in the United States looks pretty grim and is painful to watch. We can be forgiven for being quietly thankful for Canada’s more inclusive society, which has avoided dramas like that in Ferguson, Mo. We are not the only ones to think this. In the recently released Social Progress Index, Canada is ranked second amongst all nations for its tolerance and inclusion.

Unfortunately, the truth is we have a far worse race problem than the United States. We just can’t see it very easily.

Terry Glavin, recently writing in the Ottawa Citizen, mocked the idea that the United States could learn from Canada’s example when it comes to racial harmony. To illustrate his point, he compared the conditions of the African-American community to Canada’s First Nations. If you judge a society by how it treats its most disadvantaged, Glavin found us wanting. Consider the [above] table. By almost every measurable indicator, the Aboriginal population in Canada is treated worse and lives with more hardship than the African-American population. All these facts tell us one thing: Canada has a race problem, too.

How are we not choking on these numbers? For a country so self-satisfied with its image of progressive tolerance, how is this not a national crisis? Why are governments not falling on this issue?

But I wonder–has  the “force” which seeks to undermine this desire of Christ found a more insidious way to enter the hearts of many of us Canadians in what might seem our projection of culpability onto people and institutions outside ourselves?

Back to Pope Francis’ visit: I am shocked as well in light of this article: Pope Francis was not fully briefed prior to Canadian visit, by Thomas Reese, Religion News Service, August 5, 2022. We read:

Pope Francis’ six-day pastoral visit to Canada was a great success. It wasn’t until the news conference on the plane back to Rome that it became clear he wasn’t properly briefed for his visit.

Francis, in Canada on what he called a penitential pilgrimage, apologized to the Indigenous peoples of the country for the Catholic Church’s cooperation in their forced assimilation to colonizing Europeans’ culture over the centuries, especially in residential schools run by the church.

People from the First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities who listened to the pope’s apologies responded for the most part positively. Many, however, regretted that it took so long for the pope to apologize, and some wanted him to say more.

Some Indigenous leaders wanted the pope to denounce the Doctrine of Discovery,1 a 15th-century theory enshrined in the papal bull, Inter Caetera, that allowed Christian nations to conquer and colonize “barbarous” nations in order to convert them to Christianity. At that time, Christians believed that those who were not baptized could not go to heaven.

In short, the Vatican said, “The Holy See confirms that Inter Caetera has already been abrogated and considers it without any legal or doctrinal value.”

The pope’s response was shocking. “I didn’t understand the second part of the question. Could you explain what you mean by Doctrine of Discovery?”

What? The pope does not know what the Doctrine of Discovery is? There isn’t an excuse for this lapse.

How could the pope make a trip to Canada to apologize for the church’s role in forced assimilation without knowing about the Doctrine of Discovery? Why was he not briefed on this?

Certainly, there are people in the Vatican, especially in the Secretariat of State, and among the Canadian hierarchy who know that this doctrine is of concern to the Indigenous leaders in Canada and elsewhere. How could they let the pope go to Canada without a thorough briefing on this topic? If he had been briefed, he probably would have been happy to reject it.

Somebody dropped the ball.

The issue has been well covered by the press. Using the search function at the Religion News Service website, I found 390 results mentioning the Doctrine of Discovery just since 2020. Catholic publications like the National Catholic Reporter and America, published by the Jesuits, have also discussed it thoroughly.

Indeed, at the United Nations Ninth Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in April 2010, the Vatican said that the doctrine had been abrogated as early as 1494 and that “circumstances have changed so much that to attribute any juridical value to such a document seems completely out of place.”

In short, the Vatican said, “The Holy See confirms that Inter Caetera has already been abrogated and considers it without any legal or doctrinal value.”

What? None of his advisers suggested that he might refer to what happened to the Indigenous peoples of Canada as “genocide”? You got to be kidding. The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission described the residential school system as genocide, so this is nothing new.

If one of the pope’s speechwriters had suggested using the term “genocide,” it is clear from the pope’s response that he would have included it in his speeches.

Again, someone dropped the ball.

Fr. Reese writes that the Pope’s responses to questions while returning to Rome are “beyond embarrassing; they are scandalous.” He does not blame the Pope. What were staff briefing him on?, he rightly wonders.

Agreed.

excerpts:

ON BOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM CANADA — Pope Francis on July 29 said that the Catholic Church’s treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada amounted to a cultural “genocide” and warned against a colonialist mindset that continues to view Native peoples and customs as “inferior.”

Francis said that “taking away the children, changing the culture and mentality” and erasing “an entire culture” was effectively a “genocide.”

The pope’s remarks came during an inflight press conference en route back to Rome after his July 24-29 trip to Canada, where he apologized on multiple occasions for the abuse that Indigenous children suffered at Catholic-run residential schools, as well as for the church’s adoption of policies that stripped away Indigenous culture.

The phrase “cultural genocide” was used by the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its final report in 2015. During his first full day in the country on July 25, Francis apologized for the “cultural destruction” resulting from the residential schools, but stopped short of calling it a genocide.

“Genocide is a technical term,” said Francis on his flight home, affirming that while he did not specifically use it during the trip, that what he had described in apologizing for the treatment of Indigenous peoples at residential schools could be characterized as such.

“I asked for forgiveness for this genocidal work,” he added.

That is the problem of many today who claim to be traditionalists. They are not traditionalists, they are backwardists. Tradition is the root of inspiration in order to go forward in the church.

Francis was also asked about appeals to rescind the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a policy dating back to the 15th century that offered a theological justification for the colonization of Indigenous lands.

While church officials have maintained that the doctrine no longer has any legal merits, Canada’s bishops’ have been working with Vatican officials for a formal rescission of the policy, which has been an ongoing demand of many Indigenous advocates.

At various points throughout his time in the country, Francis was met with banners and shouts from protestors calling on him to take action, though he did not comment directly on the doctrine during his visit.

While he avoided discussion of the legal questions surrounding it, the pope told reporters that “this doctrine of colonization is evil and unjust and used today.”

“That mentality,” said Francis, that “we are superior and these Indigenous do not count, that is very serious.”

“Even today, we see the same kind of colonialism,” said Francis, adding that it was necessary to go back and fix “the wrong that was done.”

Francis also demurred when asked about the possibility of reexamining church teaching against contraception.

While the pope defended the work of theologians who have called for such a change, saying “one cannot do theology with a ‘no’ in front of you,” he said the church’s Magisterium “helps to understand the limits.”

Even today, we see the same kind of colonialism. It is necessary to go back and fix the wrong that was done.

While not addressing the question of contraception directly, Francis went on to note that there are plenty of areas of church teaching that have changed over time, saying that “a church that does not develop its thinking in an ecclesial way is a church that goes backward.”

Please click on: Pope Francis: Catholic Church committed cultural ‘genocide’ of Canada’s Indigenous peoples

Hits: 7

Footnotes
  1. See too my many posts here[]

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

%d bloggers like this: