(Residential school survivor Evelyn Korkmaz, left, Senator Murray Sinclair, and NDP MP Romeo Saganash at a news conference in Ottawa)
A news conference to clear the air about the Pope’s apology to Indian residential school survivors only seemed to confuse things further.
Bishop Lionel Gendron told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday the Catholic church is a “decentralized” organization and Pope Francis can’t be held responsible for what others have done.
But Senator Murray Sinclair called that “a failure” and said the apology demanded by his Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is needed by survivors to heal.
Senior leaders of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed the media in Ottawa in front of an NDP motion to be tabled in the House of Commons calling on Pope Francis to apologize for residential schools. The motion failed after one MP voted no. It’s not clear who voted against it, but in a scrum prior to Question Period, Conservative Indigenous Affairs Critic said it has no place in parliament.
“We like to keep a separation between church and state in terms of Parliament directing specific actions,” she said. “And I think we also believe that that’s an important distinction to keep, which the other parties don’t believe.”
The bishops said the Pope may apologize in person if he came to Canada and met with Indigenous peoples.
But according to Richard Gagnon, Archbishop of Winnipeg and vice-president of the CCCB, the church has already done so, said.
“The pope never said he wouldn’t apologize,” Gagnon said. “What the Holy Father did say was he would not personally respond to (TRC) call to Action 58.”
Does that mean Yes or No the Pope will apologize?
“Our concern is that it’s important to clear up any misconceptions that are out there and correct any inaccuracies,” Gagnon added.
The answer confused reporters who continued to yell questions as the black-robed religious figures left the room.
APTN Reporter Annette Francis gives us more from the news conference in Ottawa
Sinclair was accompanied by NDP-MPs Charlie Angus and Romeo Saganash (Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou), who bashed the bishops’ behaviour.
“I am disgusted,” said Saganash, a Cree politician from Quebec who survived 10 years in residential school.
“To state ‘the Catholic church as a whole in Canada was not associated with the residential schools’ pushes this church towards very irresponsible, historical, revisionism,” added Angus (Timmins-James Bay), a Catholic.
Sen. Murray Sinclair, who chaired the TRC, said it was sad to see the church try and distance itself from the issue now.
“They’re not taking responsibility and that’s a shame,” he said.
It took survivor Evelyn Korkmaz, who shared the stage with the politicians, to clarify the subject.
“The church has acknowledged wrongdoing,” she said. “So all we’re asking for is a verbal apology.”
Korkmaz attended notorious St. Anne’s residential school in Angus’s riding, whose survivors are battling Ottawa for the same compensation offered other survivors.
Angus, who has been championing their fight, said the church has to apologize and noted he was “distressed” Canadian bishops weren’t insisting he do that.
But Gagnon defended the head of the church.
“I agree with the way the Pope is handling this in waiting for an opportune time,” he said.
“He has been invited to Canada from the prime minister, from three of our presidents of the Catholic conference of bishops of Canada…His response had to do with Call to Action No. 58 and its rather strict confines.”
Pope Francis has apologized to Indigenous peoples in Bolivia for the impact of colonialism and said sorry to survivors of priestly sexual abuse in Ireland.
“We have a track record with this Pope who is not afraid to confront the hard issues,” Gagnon added.