The Innocent Children
The children. All the children, little and big. Their deaths are not isolated events. They are endemic to a culture of abuse, power, greed and corruption. In a monolithic church that gained momentum through the ages using these patterns that have been enduring and defining characteristics of its culture. Abuse, greed, power and corruption was going on well before Residential Schools, during the era of Residential Schools and continues post Residential Schools.
The sudden explosion of sexual abuse charges against Catholic Priests, Bishops and more in the late 80s and the 90s did not bring down this monstrosity of an institution. Charges that emerged all around the world. Will finally looking for, finding and counting the bodies of potentially thousands of children across this country do it?
In My Lifetime – Yours Too
I am almost 60 years old. I was raised as a Catholic. I was the first alter girl in my small church. I was pretty proud of that at the time and also oblivious to the power structures. I taught Sunday School when I was in high school. My father was French Canadian Roman Catholic. My mother’s mother was Irish Catholic (via Newfoundland). My grandfather changed religions for my grandmother but he was not opposed to skipping mass for a good cause, like sleeping on the couch Christmas Eve to stay with the grandkids while the rest of the family went to midnight mass.
I grew up in a small town in Nova Scotia. Sheltered from most of the abominations of the world. While I was growing up in all innocence, children my age – children – my age – were still being forcibly removed from their homes, their parents and families, their communities, their cultures, their support systems. They were imprisoned in facilities claiming to be schools, sanctioned by the Canadian government and run by Catholic institutions, whose sole purpose was to “kill the Indian”, even as that meant killing the child, the human being.
These professed ambassadors of God are among the most heinous, villainous people. They have no humanity. What person sees a newborn baby and throws it into an incinerator? What person professes to love God but abuses children, starves them, lets them die of starvation and other illnesses? What person sees evil in a child – many children – and somehow believes they are justified in their actions of capital punishment and worse? Except to hide their crimes.
No Person is Less Than
What society turns a blind eye to what is right there to see and then blames the traumatized people – the people we traumatized – for the ills that befall them – the inability to parent, not knowing how to be in relationship, turning to addictions because they are hollowed out cores of who they are as a person and who they are as a people, disconnected from their roots, their language, their own humanity? What person with any humanity can find any justification in what happened, the crimes that were committed? What kind of person still tries to hide the truth, still tries to believe there was good happening in those buildings?
There was no good in those “schools”. There was no humanity. There was no Christianity. There were horrors, evils, punishments, fear, isolation. There was physical, sexual, emotional, psychological abuse. Many people sought to hide those stories, including the Canadian Government, silencing anyone, like Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, who dared to try to tell the truth. Many others just looked away, unwilling to believe this was possible, denying First Nations peoples their voices.
From its roots, Christianity has wrought harm in this world, running roughshod over other practices like paganism, taking over holidays to take root in cultures and banning practices they deemed un-Christian. Birthing the patriarchy, violating women and making women subject to men. Destructive patriarchal patterns that societies have not yet extricated ourselves from. Why were Catholic priests not allowed to marry? Because of greed. Back in the days of the European aristocracy, a son offered to the church also brought some portion of an inheritance that would go to the Church because the Priest was not married. The Church filled its coffers off the backs of the poor and built beautiful, elaborate cathedrals.
What Compassion and Humility is Needed Now?
What compassion and humility is needed now to not block the way of full exposure, the full truth? Our nation should be screaming for investigations, for arrests, for every conceivable record to be handed over. Some of the people who committed these atrocities are still alive. Apologies are needed, sure. But they are hollow words without commitment to systemic change and to what it takes to heal the harms done.
I don’t know that any of my ancestors were directly involved in these systems of oppression and harm. I long ago stopped being a Catholic – a FARC as a friend of mine said – Fallen Away Roman Catholic. But I would be remiss if I did not bear witness. If I did not clamour for justice. If I did not create the space for these stories to be shared. If I did not let myself be horrified while not making any excuses for myself, the heritage I spring from or the society I live in. There are no excuses. Stop making them. Do the right thing. We can no longer look away because it is inconvenient to look directly at the horrifying harm that we, our ancestors, and our institutions have done.
How the Catholic Church continues to be a seemingly untouchable monstrous global organization is beyond me. When the stories about the abuse of young boys by priests began to break and we learned that priests were shifted from one parish to another, moving the problem from one community to another where these same priests continued to perpetrate harm on innocent youth, to supposedly protect the reputation of the Church, it was not enough to bring down the institution. It happened by and in full view of decision makers and high-ranking authority figures within the Church hierarchy. And in happened in full view of the community with hushed whispers and the inability to confront power.
Don’t Look Away
The truth is there for all of us to see. My parents would be mortified, heartbroken and confused. And none of that would make up for the pain and destruction wrought by the Church since it was conceived all those centuries ago.
What can we do now? Add your voice for justice. Research who to contribute to. Learn about Truth and Reconciliation. Question every assumption and judgment you have ever carried about the First Nations people of our country. The fact they have and are surviving despite the extent of harm and destruction wrought upon them is nothing short of a miracle. That they were deemed less than human, by others claiming superiority is exactly the abuse, power, greed, and corruption that infuses the culture and systems of the Church, government and even our communities.
The Children’s Voices are Rising
They may have tried to take away the language of the children. The voice of the children may have gone silent for a while, but a chorus of voices is rising up now. They are creating the space for the voice of the living and the dead to finally be heard, acknowledged, seen by more and more people. We can no longer look away. The truth demands to be known.