The Catholic Church has had decades to atone for the central role it played in the creation and administration of residential schools in Canada. And for decades, it declined to do much of anything on that front. But now, in the wake of the discovery of unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children in Kamloops near the site of a former residential school, the church may not be able to hide from its past any longer. Nor will it be able to hide that past from everyone else.

There have been apologies and expressions of regret offered by local Catholic orders and dioceses in the past for the role they played in the mistreatment and abuse of Indigenous children, although the Pope has been steadfast in his refusal to offer a public apology. But words alone were never going to be enough, especially when they were being uttered by representatives of a church that was simultaneously stonewalling officials on the release of key documents and records about the residential school system they helped build.

“It's just so frustrating, it's so frustrating to the communities, so frustrating to the families and it's something the Truth and Reconciliation Commission fought for every single year of its existence,” Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said in an interview with the Canadian Press.

Those records could have helped reveal the location of the unmarked graves in Kamloops, and they would almost certainly point families and officials to other similar sites across the country. And while Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller said his diocese would be “fully transparent with our archives and records regarding all residential schools,” that’s sort of like offering to confess to a crime of which you’ve already been convicted. At this point, it’s just about reducing the severity of the sentence.

Prime Minister (and Catholic) Justin Trudeau expressed frustration with the Vatican’s ongoing recalcitrance when it comes to reconciliation. “We expect the church to step up and take responsibility for its role in this, and be there to help in the grieving and the healing, including with records,” he said. “It’s something a number of other churches, the United Church and others, have done. It’s something we are all still waiting for the Catholic Church to do.”

Indigenous Canadians and their families have waited on the Catholic Church long enough. Now it’s time for some action — and long-overdue restitution. That should begin with exploring the possibility of stripping Canada’s Catholic churches and parishes of their charitable status and taxing the enormous sums of wealth they’ve been allowed to accumulate over the years. It could include depriving Catholic schools of the public funding they receive in places like Ontario and Alberta and collapsing them into the broader public system instead.

And it must involve a direct financial payment to the descendants of the Indigenous people who were victimized by Catholic priests, nuns and other church officials — and whose relatives are effectively being re-victimized by last week’s news. As part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement struck in 2007, Catholic entities were obligated to put $25 million towards healing and reconciliation programs for survivors. But as the Globe and Mail’s Tavia Grant reported last week, “they wound up raising just $3.7 million.”

It’s not just godless heathens like me who are suggesting the Catholic Church should face financial consequences here. In a recent column, Michael Coren, a writer and Anglican priest who spent decades in the Catholic faith, broached the idea of removing the church’s charitable status. “The church is mired in sexual and physical abuse cases the world over, including Canada, and some areas are facing bankruptcy because of it,” he wrote. “But so be it, and there is a price to pay for such repugnant behaviour, and for its obfuscation and denial. The church is wealthy, and even if it weren’t this issue is about morality and humanity, not money and property.”

But from the church’s perspective, it seems, the issue here very much is about money and property. It understands revealing the full scope and scale of its role in the residential school system could expose it to financial risk, and it has seemed to do everything in its considerable power to prevent that from happening. That’s why it has withheld key information and records about its historical activities. And that’s why it needs to be forced to pay up for them.

That payment could be directed towards a broader effort to eliminate the costs — including housing and living expenses — of a post-secondary education for any Indigenous person in this country. There is no way to fully account for the damage that was done by residential schools, or the lasting impact they’ve had on so many families. But by opening the doors to Canada’s post-secondary institutions as widely as possible for Indigenous students, we can make some long overdue amends.

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I wrote to the PM and Federal Finance MInister, BC Premier and Finance Minister and my local MP and MLA a week ago and suggested this same approach and have heard nothing back. The history of this church of sexual predatory behaviour, ongoing blatant mysogeny and killing of children in residential schools shows that they should lose all tax breaks and have their considerable property confiscated (proceeds of crime). At this point an apology is not enough.
If senior governments are too afraid to take on the church then municipal governments should do so, they control the local property tax exemptions. Please continue the good work on this issue, I will be.

"...an apology is not enough."

Yup. But we have moved into a "tears and sympathy" culture, as far as monstrous crimes are concerned.

Certainly the pope should apologize: that's watching his lips.
Then we need to see where his, and his organization's, feet move.

It's far more than time.

Precisely so Kathy, and insightful analysis; we have indeed moved into a "tears and sympathy" culture as far as monstrous crimes are concerned. To that point, did you hear Dennis Saddleman's reading of his poem "Monster" on CBC's "The Current?" It's visceral, devastating, and the heart of the matter. No hearts and flowers, OR one of the vapid "conversations" that I keep hearing we are all supposed to be having on these "difficult" or "challenging" topics. So tired of hearing that, while Rome burns so to speak.
As far as the pope and his organization, his oldest old boys' club, his crime syndicate and pedophile ring, and where their feet move? Hopefully way back into the farthest dark reaches of their wildly ostentatious cathedrals for all time as slight atonement for their creed's ongoing crime against humanity, starting with peddling the original "fake news."
Oh what tangled webs we weave....

The Catholic church has lost any moral authority it thought it once had! I completely agree with this article, thank you Max.

It is perhaps hypocritical for people to lay all the blame on the Catholic Church. It is humanity, ultimately, which is to blame. WE have stupidly put our faith in all too fallible human (not divinely) created institutions, virtually all of which have at some point, or consistently, abused humans "for our own good" or more crassly, for our support, largely financial; and knowingly subjugated us to increase their own power over our species. As the bible proclaims "god" has given man dominion over all creation. Has no one ever questioned the absurdity of that statement? Why on earth would god, if he exists, entrust "creation" to the slipshod hands of humans? He's too busy regulating the universe? He's just kidding, just testing us for our fitness? More likely we've been set up to fail - which makes more sense evolutionarily.

Of course the Catholic church should apologize - getting money out of them is a lost cause and, indeed the entire church, and all the other churches and religious abusers are lost causes - they just don't know it yet.

I agree that they will not willingly live up to their financial obligations, which is why I suggested that we take it. They get their municipal property taxes waived by municipal councils, the land they own was mostly taken from indigenous peoples and their income tax deferments are from the federal government. In addition the civil forfeiture act allows recovery from the proceeds of crime. They would have been paid per student by the federal government for residential schools so I think this would qualify.

Yaaaay! Well put Betsy.
We can only hope, and educate, starting by getting people to google "dominionism," then "patriarchy," "misogyny" and finally, "delusion" and "cult."

I completely agree with the arguments this article presents......but would make this suggestion in addition. Let's think about the young girls given to the church to become the nuns who did the unpaid work of running these institutions...many of them came from those large Catholic families that antiquated 'beliefs' about reproduction and men's right to their wives 'nuptial duties' made inevitable. Imagine being 15 or younger and 'given to God' by families with too many mouths to feed.

The abandonment of children hasn't been limited to indigenous people in this country, or other western states.....the children of the poor have faced grim realities and foreclosed futures as well. Today in Canada, too many of them are dying of drug overdoses on our mean streets. Too many fall through the cracks of our overcrowded schools....where Catholic dogma may be part of the curriculum, but social justice gets short shrift.

Lets start connecting a whole bunch of dots that run from the horrors we visited as a nation on our indigenous brothers and sisters......to the neglect of child services, affordable daycare, overcrowded schools........and continued efforts by the religious right, to restrict access to abortion and declare every fetus sacred, but put money and profits ahead of caring for those same children, once they emerge from the womb.

Let's really choose Life.........and Refuse the patriarchal BS that has passed for spirituality in most Christian nations. The teacher who asked us to 'suffer the little children' would be ashamed.......he didn't mean, 'make the little children suffer'.

But it seems to me that is too often what these men in skirts have allowed to happen. Enough already.....make them cough up what they really value. Cold hard cash.

Absolutely agree, and find it telling that the most trenchant comments are made by women, who have consistently, along with children, have consistently got the short end of the stick in every single one of these strikingly similar, man-made creeds.
Jerry Seinfeld said that "most men are low-level superheroes in their own minds." I suggest that religious men are low-level GODS in theirs. And not always low-level....the male ego can truly be otherworldly.

A very good op-ed and comments. However, it has to be pointed out that knowledge of dead Indigenous kids from residential schools has been in the public realm for decades, and was reiterated in strong terms in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry.

It's startling how the materialization of actual, physical skeletal remains overturn the indifference of those who heard and read the words beforehand. If the roughly 4:1 actual deaths over the published deaths at these schools holds nationally, then Canada is in for a worldwide crime-against-humanity condemnation as upwards of 10,000 unrecorded graves of Aboriginal kids are discovered.

WTF? Is this Bosnia?

I was raised in an evangelical household and had many Catholic friends. Thank the stars I was more interested in Eric Clapton's music and rock culture in the late 60s than in continuing to attend my mother's church beyond the age of 16. Now, decades later, I see a powerful force in compassionate secular humanism given these recent revelations and the question of how to deal with the aftermath. I have more faith in genuine intellectual curiosity. These traits are not represented by towering cathedrals, the accumulation of great wealth or judgemental control and power by the patriarchy.

I don't care one whit about preserving the Catholic church. In fact, perhaps it should be forced to dismantle itself and have its wealth forcefully distributed to the millions of people and their descendants it has harmed for a long time to fund the long-overdue healing. That's the price of justice.

Absolutely the Pope should apologize for the actions of the Catholic Church related to residential schools. And, undoubtedly, the Catholic Church must make financial restitution as should all the parties involved. We need to acknowledge the culture of the times and accept that Canada, Canadians, the involved churches all played a role and now it is time for all of us to make reparation. We may not have been active in this horror but our country was.

On of the many schools the Catholic Church operated was The Kuper Island School on Kuper Island near Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It opened in 1889. Students set fire to the school in 1896 when holidays were cancelled. A survey carried out in that year showed that of 264 former students 107 had died. Two girls drowned while trying to escape the school in 1959 and another student committed suicide in 1966. The federal government took over the administration of the school in 1969 and closed it in 1975. In 1995 a former employee pled guilty to three charges of indecent assault and gross indecency.

The Pope and the Catholic Church owe more than an apology and acknowledgment of these crimes, they should be tried by an international Court for crimes against humanity.