Saturday, July 17, 2021

Should the Pope apologize?


An activist group is pressing for Pope Francis to come to Canada and apologize.  

As of this date, more than 1,100 bodies have been found in unmarked graves at sites of former Residential Schools – the official term for boarding schools put in place by government decree starting in 1874, and managed for the most part by the Catholic Church – a few by the Methodist and United Churches –  for over 100 years.  This on top of the decades of stories of misery and abuse from the kids who survived but, for the most part, were ignored.

An apology from the pope. Really? How does that help?

Imagine you lived and raised your kids in Hinkley, California, in the 1960s. You watched as many, many of your neighbors got sick and died, had kids born with deformities, perhaps you lost a child or two of your own. The water supply for the town was polluted by hexavalent chromium and other proven cancer-causing chemicals from a Pacific Gas & Electric plant draining right into the aquifer, but they vehemently denied that there was anything wrong.

Finally, in 2011, a spokesperson for PG&E apologized for the pollution in Hinkley and swore that the company was dedicated to ‘doing the right thing in Hinkley.’

 If you had lived there, would you have felt any better? I wouldn’t have. PG&E had spent literally decades lying and covering up the story about the pollution. They even had literature printed to tell the townsfolk that chromium was good for them! The town became famous in the movie “Erin Brockovich”, after PG&E was forced to shell out over $300,000,000, the largest medical settlement in history. “Forced” being the operative word; their actions proved they weren’t even remotely contrite. None of the corporate officers were even threatened with punishment for their crimes.

In case that example doesn’t work for you, let’s try another one: In 1976 a very young priest named Jorge Mario Bergoglio became head of the Jesuits in Argentina. That same year, there was a military coup in Argentina, leading to what has been dubbed “The Dirty War”, in which some 30,000 people were arrested, tortured, and in many cases “disappeared”, simply for objecting to or reporting on what the military government was doing.

Two of those kidnapped, priests Francisco Jalics and Orlando Yorio, were interrogated and tortured for over three months before finally being expelled from the country. Both of them placed the blame for their arrest on the head of the Jesuits, Bergoglio, who, they said, cooperated hand-in-glove with the new military dictatorship. One even claimed that Bergoglio was present during some of his interrogations.

Now: suppose someone came up with rock solid proof against Bergoglio – proof similar to the skeletal remains of native children that are now being dug up near those residential schools. Would his apology be sufficient? Or might we reasonably expect a modern Argentine court to demand that Bergoglio return to Argentina to stand trial for kidnapping?

Considering that Bergoglio is now better known as Pope Francis, that probably won’t happen.

The Residential School program began almost as soon as Europeans began settling in North America. The nominal Christians referred to the Indians as pagans and believed strongly that the best way to Christianize them was to forcibly remove their children from the pagan environment and teach them ‘Christian’ ways.

While Canada’s system is in the news now, they were not alone. Carlisle Indian Industrial School was opened in 1879 in Pennsylvania and ran until 1918 on the same principle: Take Indian children away from their parents and teach them ‘Christian’ principles. It was in fact official U.S. policy from 1819 through the 1960s. While few if any records were kept, anecdotal evidence suggests there were over 360 such boarding schools in the U.S. – more than twice as many as Canada had. 

When the former sites of those schools are discovered and searched, will the ground-penetrating radar somehow prove that U.S. boarding schools were more Christian, more caring, than their Canadian counterparts? Not likely.

But maybe the pope will show up and apologize.  That will fix everything.

Bill K. Underwood is a columnist and author of several books, all available at can help support this site by purchasing a book.


No comments:

Post a Comment