Published:June 28, 2021
When Justin Trudeau publicly rebuked the Catholic Church for not accepting more responsibility for all the abuse and death at residential schools he was calling out the hierarchy of his own religious faith.
The prime minister deserved kudos for that: it is not an easy thing to do.
So why hasn’t Alberta Premier Jason Kenney done the same?
He’s a practicing Catholic, who has been known to consort with the Catholic hierarchy, and yet he has remained silent on the role of the Catholic Church in the genocide of Indigenous peoples.
He even managed to avoid the topic during a media conference held last week to announce that his government would be providing First Nation and Métis communities with grants totalling $8 million so they could conduct their own investigations of the residential schools on their territories.
The event lasted for an hour but the word “church” never mind “Catholic” was uttered, not even once by Kenney, his minister of Indigenous relations, or the three First Nations and Métis representatives who also participated.
Given that Alberta had the most residential schools (25) of any province and that 60 per cent of them were managed and operated by Catholic orders of priests and nuns this seems like a deliberate omission.
At that point, the discovery of the 215 children’s graves at the Kamloops Catholic residential school, which resulted in so much angst and shame across the country, was over a month old. And word was already out that over 700 graves were likely to be found at another Catholic residential school in Cowessess in southeastern Saskatchewan.
But the Canadian Catholic hierarchy has yet to issue a collective apology or request that Pope Francis come to Canada and do the same.
Some individual bishops have apologized but they are few and far between. Some Catholic religious orders have said they will release archived records but they are slow in coming. The Church has yet to pay any compensation for the soul destroying damage it inflicted on generations of Indigenous people.
There’s no doubt that there is deep anger out there over the role of the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations in these tragedies. Four Catholic churches in the southern B.C. have been burned to the ground in the last two weeks. Two and half years ago, the Catholic Church on the Cowessess First Nation was burned down. Three years ago a church built by Methodist missionaries shortly after they arrived to evangelize the Stoney Nakoda people just west of Calgary went up in flames. The Methodists paved the way for the residential school that was managed by the United Church.
Jason Kenney surely knows all this. So why doesn’t he use his influence to call out Catholic leaders for their refusal to accept both moral and financial responsibility?
He belongs to a branch of Catholicism called the Ordinariate, which was established by Pope Benedict XV1 in 2009 for Anglican clergy and laity who wanted to return to the Catholic Church because they opposed the ordination of women, gay clergy and same sex marriage. Kenney had grown up in an Anglican household but converted to Catholicism in the 1980s while attending a Jesuit university in San Francisco, where he actively campaigned against abortion and spousal rights for gay couples afflicted by the AIDS crisis.
He is regarded as such a staunch Catholic that in 2012 Stephen Harper named him to the Canadian delegation that accompanied the archbishop of Toronto and cardinal-designate Thomas C. Collins to the Vatican for all the pomp and ceremony that is part of being appointed a Prince of the Church.
Kenney made the right move when he announced provincial funding for investigations of Alberta residential schools; although calling them re-education camps rather than schools is closer to the truth.
But instead of simply dedicating public funds to those investigations Kenney could also have called on the Catholic Church to offer a formal apology and pay its share of compensation. But he didn’t.
Kenney often defends John A. Macdonald, the architect of the federal government’s genocidal policies. So perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that he is also willing to give the Catholic Church a pass as well.