The Church and the Charade of Contrition

The only moment that matters regarding the Pope’s visit to Canada to apologize to Indigenous people for the Church’s enormous role in the ethnic cleansing and genocide of First Nations, was an unscripted one. It was when an Indigenous woman stood up and sang the Canadian anthem in Cree, with tears streaming down her face.

Much of the media has been reporting this moment as if she were singing as a sign of respect. This is nonsense. You can see the righteous defiance in her face and hear it in her voice. Women, after all, have been excluded in most of the official ceremonies. They have not been granted an audience with the Pope. But this woman got his attention anyway, not only defying a legacy of colonial oppression, but the patriarchy itself. “She was telling him that this (land) was a pure place – a clean place – prior to the settlements,” said Ermineskin Nation, Chief Randy Ermineskin. She basically told the Pope and his priests to go home until real, substantive reparation to Indigenous peoples is enacted.

Sometime after the Pope was finished with his apology, another unidentified woman yelled: “Repudiate the doctrine of discovery! Renounce the papal bulls!” The papal bulls were 15th-century edicts that the Catholic Church and colonial settlers used to justify the violent theft of Indigenous land and centuries of genocide. This, and the odious “Doctrine of Discovery,” have not yet been rescinded by the Church.

The Indigenous response to the Pope’s visit and apology has been mixed. Some have expressed that it has brought healing, while others have said that it merely ripped open old wounds. For more than a century, the residential school system in Canada, which was essentially run by the Church, forcibly separated more than 150,000 Indigenous children from their families. Thousands suffered unspeakable horror, from beatings to starvation to sexual abuse, at the hands of priests and nuns.

So, this one woman’s defiance is the only moment worth paying attention to in this charade of contrition. Until the Church addresses the emotional, mental and material consequences of its murderous legacy, these words will remain as hollow as the trunk of a dead tree.

Kenn Orphan, July 2022

*Photo is of this remarkably courageous woman standing up to the Pope. Source: Reuters.

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