I asked the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kamloops and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver for comment on Tk’emlups te Secwépemc’s announcement that the remains of 215 children had been found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Instead of agreeing to an interview, both groups issued statements expressing sadness.
Notably, neither statement included an apology for the atrocities committed by the Catholic Church during its decades of running the Kamloops school and other facilities across Canada.
Expressing sadness and sympathy is a rather hollow gesture when not accompanied by a heartfelt apology that illustrates the perpetrating institution truly understands the harm it has done to generations of a people.
My experience with the religious order that ran the Kamloops school — Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate — was different.
Not only did Father Ken Thorson return my call and agree to an interview, he repeated the message included in the group’s 1991 apology — that it had contributed greatly to the “cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious imperialism” that lies at the root of the many problems suffered today by First Nations peoples.
Since the discovery of those missing children, there have been renewed calls for Pope Francis to apologize on behalf of the Church for the cultural genocide it brought on First Nations students via its operations of residential schools.
The pope and the Church have steadfastly refused such requests in the past and it doesn’t seem likely the remains of 215 kids will be shocking enough to change minds.
It is bewildering, of course, but that should not stop Catholics and non-Catholics alike from demanding the Church offer an apology — and more. The Church should be stating in no uncertain terms that it is ready and willing to do whatever it is Tk’emlups te Secwépemc asks of it — financially and otherwise.
If a decision is made to demolish that red brick building and construct something new, the Church should be first in line, offering to fund the venture.
After all, apologizing for past atrocities is not a new practice for the Catholic Church.
The Church has apologized to victims of sexual abuse in Ireland and to Indigenous peoples in Bolivia for crimes of colonialism. And an apology to residential school survivors is one of 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
If the United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches can all offer official apologies for their sordid roles in the residential school system, why can’t the Catholic Church?