Good for the soul

The Compass - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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