Forgive me if the tone of this particular meditation. But you see — I’m angry.
In a speech delivered on today — April 1, 2022 (the timing of which shouldn’t be lost on anyone), Pope Francis finally got around to apologizing for the Catholic Church’s participation in Canada’s long and tumultuous residential school system, which were in operation for nearly a century from the 1890s – 1990s. They were mandatory until 1947.
In these schools Indigenous children were indoctrinated into Christianity through bullying, intimidation, and torture. Shit has recently hit the fan, so to speak, when mass graves of countless, nameless Indigenous children were found on the property of these residential schools; the picture accompanying this post is over a year old and now outdated, but it gives you an idea of the scope and breadth of these murdered innocents and the work still to be done in holding both the state and the Church accountable and to provide some form of justice.
In a gesture of immense grace, Inuit and Métis delegates travelled this week from Canada to the Vatican to speak with him about the abuses suffered in those schools. The Pope was humble and clearly ashamed, welcoming the delegates with grace and warmth while listening to their appeals. Afterwards, he delivered his apology. It can be read in its entirely, translated from Italian, here.
While Pope Francis’s speech was heralded as an “important step” and praised for its honesty, humility, and sincerety, I find it woefully inadequate and finger-pointing. Because for as much as the Pope admits the Church’s wrongdoing, his apology boils down to this simple line: “For the deplorable behaviour of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask forgiveness from God.”
I put the emphases on the words “those members” to direct your attention toward them. “Those members,” Francis? You mean the WHOLE SYSTEM built on colonialism and empire-building? You mean the history of the whole Holy Roman Church since it’s conception? Are those the members you’re talking about? Are you seriously going to shift the blame on individual members of the church like they weren’t following mandates given to them by the Vatican? That’s how you’re going to play this — with a subtle variation on “not all Catholics?”
Pope Francis, you cannot talk about progress within the golden walls of your Vatican without shouldering the responsibility of the genocide that paid for its riches. When you do, you continue to enable the narrative that the foundation on which you stand isn’t built over the bodies of the innocent that your church slaughtered. Because you know better. You know church history. You’ve read the 1455 Romanus Pontifex, in which your predecessor Pope Nicholas V ordered a clear mandate to “invade, search out, vanquish, and subdue all .. pagans [read: non-whites] and reduce their persons to perpetual slavery.” You know how this formula was used to launch slavery, and later adopted to the New World with a mandate to convert Indigenous people by any means necessary. (I’d even wager you’ve studied the works of Bartolomé de las Casas.) You know how this mandate was foundational to the Catholic Church’s mission statement when those schools opened. Stop protecting your genocidal history, or you’re no better than any of those who came before you.
Your apologies mean nothing until they become a confession that the system itself is the result of mass murder and genocide, manufactured to keep your Church expanding and in power. Your throne is paid for in that blood. Until you admit that to the world, all you offer are cowardly excuses and no solution that will actually point toward reconciliation healing.
In the words of the one you call Master: ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” Matthew 7:15-20
Your fruits are still protecting an institution founded on white supremacy and empire expansion. Have the courage to admit that truth, or just do us all a favor and shut the hell up and go back to pretending that actually fixing this isn’t your responsibility. You’re only fooling yourself and your admittedly massive base, but hey — that base keeps dwindling with every murdered innocent unburied. And those ghosts will not be silenced.