Monday, August 8, 2022

Pope’s great admission

It was indeed the most profound act of repentance and regret when Pope Francis begged for forgiveness on behalf of the Church for the ‘Evil’ that church-run schools inflicted on the indigenous people of Canada. Pope Francis apologized to the indigenous people for the church’s role in running boarding schools where Indigenous children were sexually and physically abused and where many died. Since 1883 to 1997 over 1.5 lakh indigenous red Indian tribal children were forcibly separated from their parents and put in boarding schools where the focus was on manual labour, religious instruction and cultural assimilation. Those schools separated children from parents; inflicted physical, sexual and mental abuse; erased languages to break the cultures, and communities of Indigenous people. Most of the schools were run for the government with Catholic orders responsible for running 60 to 70 percent of the roughly 130 schools, where thousands of children died. Recent discoveries of more than 1,300 unmarked graves at the sites of four former residential schools in western Canada have shocked and horrified Canadians. Indigenous peoples, whose families and lives have been haunted by the legacy of Canada’s Indian residential school system, have long expected such revelations. And the news only reopened old and painful wounds. These were residential “schools” that constituted the death camps of the Canadian Holocaust, and within their walls. Nearly one-half of all aboriginal children sent there by law died, or disappeared, according to the government’s own statistics. As per estimates more than 50,000 victims vanished, as have their corpses. By the 1980s, it became clear that the effects of the residential schools were far greater and longer-lasting than most non-indigenous Canadians cared to admit. The government was reluctant to admit wrongdoing even in the face of rising tensions with Indigenous Peoples. In 1988, George Erasmus, head of the Assembly of First Nations, warned the Canadian government that ignoring the rights and land claims of the Indigenous Peoples could lead to violence. The Canadian government had set a fund of $350 million “for community-based healing as a first step to deal with the legacy of physical and sexual abuse at residential schools,” and laid plans for community development and strengthening indigenous governance. On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a public apology in front of a joint session of Parliament and representatives of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, who appeared in full ceremonial dress. Despite all these, the Church had remained largely silent though individually church leaders called for admitting that a kind of genocide had taken place. In 2019, with story after story exposing new abuses around the world, Catholics who wanted an open admission and apology had grown cynical about the Vatican’s willingness to face the global sickness of sexual abuse, and many have abandoned the Church entirely. However, that year itself, Pope Francis took a significant step toward changing that. The Pope’s nod led to a new law that institutes a detailed mechanism for reporting allegations against bishops, and offers protections to whistle-blowers. The pope’s definition of sexual abuse is expansive enough to cover children, seminarians, nuns and women in religious orders, and people with mental disabilities—all of whom have been victimized. Pope Francis has lived up to the biblical tenet on accountability and shown that the church practises what it preaches.

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