Good for the soul
It’s time for the Catholic Church in Canada to fulfil a moral obligation to residential school survivors. It must practice what it preaches. A legal loophole that allowed the church to avoid paying millions of dollars for aboriginal healing and reconciliation should not absolve it of a moral responsibility.
Details on this disturbing development became public over the past several weeks. They show bungling by the previous Conservative government, complicity by the current administration and a shirking of responsibility by Catholic and other Christian churches.
The optics are damning, especially now, when so many First Nations communities are in crisis. The issue of suicides is partly blamed on the lingering fallout from the physical, sexual and emotional abuse suffered by children in residential schools. They are now adults trying to heal. Money being withheld by churches would offer more help and hope.
The Catholic Church deserves credit for fulfilling two of its three obligations under the historic 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. About 50 Catholic organizations that ran many of the schools have paid $29 million in cash and $25 million in in-kind services.
Where it has failed involves a commitment for a “best effort” pledge to raise an additional $25 million for healing and reconciliation. That effort raised less than $4 million over seven years.
The federal government says a communication error last July by one of its lawyers resulted in Catholic entities being unintentionally released from any obligation to raise more money.
There is growing pressure by Ottawa for the church to fulfil its commitment. Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett says Catholic organizations are morally obligated to meet their commitments. She’s right.
It should not be incumbent upon Ottawa - which means the Canadian taxpayer - to pay the church’s share of the settlement.
A church lawyer made ill-advised comments in recent days that billions paid to survivors to settle court actions should be enough. The $5 billion paid by the federal government to about 80,000 survivors ended thousands of individual and class-action lawsuits.
In our court system, guilty people occasionally get off on technicalities. But the church is held to a higher standard. It preaches about right and wrong. It offers homilies on the Beatitudes and the Gospels. How does it justify its action in this matter?
Some dioceses feel they’ve paid enough and the coffers are empty. Perhaps the problem is more about empty pews, because many Catholics are dismayed with church sexual abuse scandals.
To be fair, in the aftermath of residential schools, Catholic entities worked hard to rebuild bridges of respect, understanding and credibility among First Nations. The process resulted in healing for both First Nations and the church.
Money cannot fix everything. Human compassion and understanding are important, but they can’t solve all problems, either.
Key parties are walking away from an obligation to provide justice for residential school survivors. And that’s a shame.