by Terry M. Smith
It is disappointing that Francis I, whom we respect, will not yet apologize to Indigenous peoples in Canada for the residential school legacy. This does not sound like the worldwide pastor that he is. Perhaps legal reasons posed by the Curia, the Vatican’s administration, are behind this unfortunate abundance of caution.
It’s a tremendous expression of grace by many Indigenous people across Canada that they remain Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, United Church, and members of many other parts of Christ’s Church—despite the residential school history of isolation, indoctrination, and abuse. It’s a work of the Spirit that’s seen ultimately not because of the residential school system, but despite its inner decay and collapse.
Francis I could have said that children should not have been taken from their parents and communities or abused physically, mentally, sexually, culturally, and spiritually. That the Church and government erred in their process of assimilation. That the Church erred in its missionary strategy. That God was present and working among Indigenous peoples before missionaries arrived.
He could have said that Jesus gets angry when his disciples interfere with young children coming to him (Mark 10:13-16). That leaders deserve rebuke when they shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces or ignore “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:13, 23).
What Francis I need not apologize for is the Gospel itself. It remains Good News needed by all peoples of the world (John 3:16, 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:3-6). The relationship between Christianity and other religions in the world, though, isn’t a simple one. That’s an error of the past. If we are to give Christ his proper due, the relationship is to be recognized as complex. It’s reflected in natural and special revelation, in common and special grace (see, for instance, Acts 14:11-18, 17:22-31; Rom. 1:20). A few words here are not enough.
Francis I’s silence, and its communication by Catholic bishops, will be hurtful to Indigenous Catholics across Canada, and it will affect how the Christian Church as a whole is perceived in our country. His silence is ironic given that his recent Easter message included concerns for justice and that people live in dignity.
It need not surprise us if we hear from him yet.