Canada’s Apology Tour: Opportunities Missed, Opportunities Met

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Reports of Pope Francis’ “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada late last month were, for the most part, overwhelmingly favorable in the Catholic press, but somewhat more ambivalent in Native American and secular Canadian media. At times, the reporting almost seems to be about two different sets of events, because compared to the Catholic media coverage, the latter media set had a much more urgent, worried, and unsettled tone.

One thing we need to take into account when looking at different perceptions of the Pope’s trip is the question of – for lack of a better word – “inconvenience”. Certain sectors of Native American and First Nations society, like other societies that have been hard hit by policies associated with or implemented by the Catholic Church, have no interest in reconciling or receiving an apology from Pope Francis. (or any other person who could possibly be in his position). Somehow, people have every right to feel that way. There is no moral obligation to simply move on from a deep wound or to trust again people or organizations that have seriously betrayed your trust (individual or collective) in the past. In particular, young Native Americans often perceive Catholicism extremely negatively, in an almost Manichean way. This is a phenomenon not unique to Native Americans or Catholicism, but part of a broader spirit of the political left rejecting liberal notions of tolerance and pluralism in favor of a vision of austere, though secular, world between good and evil. (Essayist Wesley Yang has called this zeitgeist “successor ideology,” a useful term despite intense controversy over some of the things Yang is suggesting when he uses it.)

Manichaean or not, it is, again, a set of perceptions that it makes sense for someone to have. However, this creates a problem with audiences – apologies are, by definition, not “for” people who are simply unwilling to accept them. But what about the criticisms of those who were, or even who are still receptive to certain aspects of Pope Francis’ visit and to the contrition that Pope Francis has expressed, but who have been disappointed by other aspects? These people also exist, despite bad faith comments suggesting otherwise from the non-Aboriginal press.

Two areas of concern came up time and time again in the coverage of the visit and arguably warrant a response. The first is the failure of Pope Francis to explicitly link the issue of residential schools to the issue of sexual abuse. Francis expressed his contrition for the two separately during the visit to Canada. However, his specifically residential school-related apology delivered to Maskwacis, Alberta, appears to have intentionally omitted sexual abuse from the categories of abuse he named. Sexual abuse was left out even though it was specifically mentioned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada among the offenses for which they asked the Church to apologize. The reason for this omission is not clear and therefore it is difficult to justify, or even whether justification is even possible or not.

The second area of ​​concern, which there is a bit more to discuss and which has more shades of gray, is the lack of an explicit repudiation of the “doctrine of discovery”, the bubble Inter cautery, And so on.

There “doctrine of discoveryis a concept parachuted into international law from the justifications used by European Christian monarchies to colonize land outside Europe. It’s not a particular document; rather, it functions as an umbrella term for many interconnected and related concepts, statements, and ideologies. It became relevant in North American politics when the United States Supreme Court case of 1823 Johnson v. M’Intosh culminated in a statement by Chief Justice John Marshall that the rationale used to allow these European powers to claim foreign lands could be used on American soil with respect to Indigenous peoples. This case continues to be relevant in U.S. judicial decisions to this day, generally regarding the government’s right to nullify or ignore Indigenous sovereignty. It is often seen in the United States and Canada as an extension of Age of Exploration policies, such as Pope Alexander VI’s Papal Bull. Inter cetera, rather than a typically American idea.

As a result, and perhaps because of the influence of American politics and its widespread rejection of Catholicism, indigenous peoples in North America tend to treat the bull and other specifically Catholic justifications as part of the same phenomenon as Protestant and secular actions taken against their sovereignty. . This is almost certainly why a banner reading “Repeal the Doctrine of Discovery” was unveiled during one of Pope Francis’ speeches by First Nations Canadian viewers, and why the online conversation in many Native American circles focused on this “doctrine” as a key point they wanted Pope Francis to address.

However, a strong argument can be made that the idea of ​​a unified “Doctrine of Discovery” is held primarily by English-speaking North Americans. Spanish uses of the term focus on the Supreme Court case of 1823 rather than Inter cetera or that predate European ideas and motivations, and Spanish discussions of colonialism focus on different points and critiques than those in English. Perhaps that’s why Pope Francis hasn’t spoken directly on the issue – not only is it a term that seems to exist outside of the languages ​​he speaks fluently, but he has made numerous statements in the past explicitly rejecting the idea that North American concepts and philosophies should dominate global discussion.

Despite this legitimate reason for not addressing “doctrine” directly, Pope Francis’ silence on Inter cetera is always confusing. Unlike other actions against Indigenous peoples, this bull is a specifically Catholic statement, and is therefore the responsibility and burden of future generations of Catholics. The silence and implicit ignorance regarding this issue is difficult to accept and its impact is twofold. First, those parts of the Catholic press and social media who believe this apology is sufficient may cite its omission as evidence that the remaining issues do not matter. Second, Indigenous peoples (especially Indigenous Catholics) who feel there needs to be a more direct apology are now in the awkward position of having to speak out in circles that are less conducive to critical discussion now than the tour is over and who believe, therefore, that the wrongdoings of the Church have surely been corrected.

Despite these omissions, indigenous Catholics in particular benefited greatly from the visit of Pope Francis. It’s hard to be a North American Native and a Catholic. Catholicism never took root among Native Americans in North America as strongly as it did in Mexico and the southern regions. This means that practitioners are associated with both a predominantly white European religion and a religion that has done irreparable harm to their own communities. An oft-repeated observation in many Indigenous Catholic circles is that Indigenous communities and white settler communities are uncomfortable spaces, as the former are often hostile to Christianity in general and to observant Indigenous people in particular, while the latter expect different identities. The cultural and generational traumas of Indigenous Catholics must be subsumed under the unifying identity of “Christian”. But North American Indigenous Catholicism does exist, and is alive and well, and for this living tradition, the apology and the visit of Pope Francis are extremely important.

Apology issues aside, the pope – elderly, with increasing mobility issues and carrying many other responsibilities – has taken great pains to make it happen. This is significant, at the level of pure hospitality, for the native leaders who welcomed him and honored him with ceremonial regalia. Alberta is far from Italy, even compared to Toronto or Montreal — Nunavut even further. If nothing else, Francis visited Canada and tried to make amends despite the inconveniences and while suffering physical pain. Especially for many older natives, the physical act of the gesture says at least as much as the words of the papal apology themselves.

The visit also expanded on how the Church acknowledges past wrongs, at least to some degree – they are still “bad apples,” but bad apples systematically implicated in a morally impermissible project. The introduction of institutional responsibility is an important step. The Church is no longer presented as a “perfect society” which can never be involved collectively or institutionally.

And with that now openly acknowledged, not only has Pope Francis begun the process of a long overdue reconciliation to a community that the Church has done great harm to, but he has opened the door for further discussion and apology. which may be requested in the future. . We believe that is enough to call this visit a success and perhaps the beginning of greater healing on all sides.

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Meredith Dawson is a Catholic convert living in the Midwestern United States. She is Native American Cherokee and a freelance Tolkien scholar.


Nathan Turowsky is originally from New England and now lives in upstate New York. A lifelong fascination with religious rituals led him first to the Episcopal Church and then to the Catholic Church. An alumnus of the Boston University School of Theology and one of the few Catholic alumni of this primarily Wesleyan institution, he is single and works in the nonprofit sector. He writes to silicate siesta.


Canada's Apology Tour: Opportunities Missed, Opportunities Met

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