By PIERCE GRAHAM
A NUMBER OF RECENT Canadian newspapers have run headline stories confirming evidence of child abuse in the infamous residential school system.
The worst of these stories is that from Kamloops, concerning the discovery of the graves of over 200 native children who were buried anonymously. It is clearly incontrovertible evidence of massive child abuse.
We can only speculate about the causes of each of those deaths, and one can be reasonably safe in assuming that, not just benign neglect, but also deliberate murder was among them.
What fascinates me in this long series of national news about our nation’s blatant reluctance to focus on responsibility for the crimes is the pattern of assigning blame or responsibility to the Canadian governments of the day – whichever day, year, decade or century in which the crimes were committed. Let us look at the historical facts in order to clarify the notion of appropriate responsibility.
However morally wrong the nation was at the time, the stated intention was to “take the Indian out of the child,” and to produce a literate adult citizen with knowledge, skills, attitudes, religion – albeit of the Catholic kind – to enable him/her to function in the Canada of the future.
Given the Christian mission being aligned with colonial enterprise, there is not much here that differs from the pattern elsewhere in the world. The difference – and it is fundamental – is that these crimes were committed, not in “hugger-mugger,” isolation or secrecy or necessity to survive, but in blatant violation of every concept of Christian – or even human – decency.
I refer, of course, not to the public of the day, nor to officials of the Canadian government, but to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Let me clarify.
Each Catholic is required, as part of his worship service, to attend confession, and to unburden to his priest the errors of his conscience, his sins of omission and commission.
Therefore, given that every honest Catholic priest hearing the confession of whatever led to a child’s abuse or death would have faith in his faith and in his church and in his God and his Holy Mother Mary.
Automatically, then, each sin of commission or omission was a secret only within the closed brotherhood but was, in essence, deliberately kept secret from all other humans “beyond the pale” of the inner sanctum of catholicism.
Every Bishop or member of the hierarchy above the parish priest knew what was going on: his own sins became those of his colleagues. History has few examples of such levels of evil committed by such selfish hypocrisy designed only to protect – not the worshipper, but the designated “holy protector.”
Hundreds of supposedly self-proclaimed “shepherds of the Lord” or servants of the Holy Mother Mary abused innocent children who were put in their care by a naive, but well-intentioned government. They abused the children, the families, the nation, and mankind.
And all in the name of God?
The Canadian government of the day was formally responsible for the decision and the trust placed in the Church: at the time, apparently a responsible trust and decision. History demands that the government possessing the actual truth – which was deliberately withheld, disguised, distorted and lied about by the church and every one of its adherents and officers – act to denounce that church in the strongest way possible, and demand restitution on a massive scale.
The damage to the native culture is beyond measure; the demand to the nation’s reputation is beyond measure; the demand for today’s innocent citizens to pay retribution for this insult to humanity is beyond measure.
The Catholic church has – in a strange, historically twisted manner – found itself finally facing a responsibility which it has historically passed on to an innocent God. What an abuse was there!
Neither I nor my forbears belong to any church, and I hope the bill for recompense, if it can ever be tallied, falls on the organization that was supposed to be responsible. Who has the courage?
Pierce Graham is a retired vice principal of NorKam secondary and a long-time English teacher.