Category Archives: Catholic Church

Genocide Repudiated

 

The Indian Residential Schools established by the Canadian government under the provisions of the Indian Act were instruments it used, often through its church partners,  to ensure dominance over indigenous people. Even if the Popes had disavowed the Doctrine of Discovery, the basis of these notions were also the foundation of that doctrine, which I have called vile.

Here is what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’)  said in its report to the Canada in 2015,

“For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.””

 

Since that report was delivered many critics have said the TRC was too gentle with Canada. They suggested the word “cultural” should be dropped from that destruction. They say, Canada was guilty of genocide. Pope Francis on his recent visit to Canada said he thought it “genocide.” The subsequent report of the 2019 Inquiry into Missing and Murdered  Women and Girls, said the actions reported on in that report amount to “genocide.” There was no qualification. It may be that the reticence of the TRC was a consequence of it not being authorized to accuse people of crimes, and genocide is a crime.

The TRC said this about genocide:

“Physical genocide is the mass killing of the members of a targeted group, and biological genocide is the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity. Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.”

 

 

And then the TRC added, “In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.” If Canada did all 3 things necessary to be classified as genocide, then the TRC is saying, Canada committed genocide in its dealings with its Indian Residential Schools. According to the TRS, and was amply justified by the evidence revealed in its report,

 

As if that was not enough the TRC also said this,

“Canada denied the right to participate fully in Canadian political, economic, and social life to those Aboriginal people who refused to abandon their Aboriginal identity. Canada outlawed Aboriginal spiritual practices, jailed Aboriginal spiritual leaders, and confiscated sacred objects. And, Canada separated children from their parents, sending them to residential schools. This was done not to educate them, but primarily to break their link to their culture and identity.   In justifying the government’s residential school policy, Canada’s First prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, told the House of Commons in 1883:

When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly pressed on myself, as the head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

 

But as if that was not enough the TRC added,

“These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will.”

 

Who can possibly deny that taking children away from their parents for such a vile policy is not genocide? I think the conclusion is clear and unassailable.

In my opinion these genocidal policies are incompatible with the statements made by Pope Francis in Canada. He spoke plainly and clearly. This was a most welcome message from a Pope.

 

A Call for Love, Truth, and Justice

 

Friends have asked me what I thought of Pope Francis’s recent words in Canada during his pilgrimage of penance. As I said earlier, it is up to indigenous people to say whether or not the apology is satisfactory, but I want to comment on some of his other statements.

 

The vicious Doctrine of Discovery, has for more than 500 years held that it is justifiable for Christians to steal land from indigenous people and brutalize and murder them in the process and then force them to be become Christians. What could be worse than that? Even if the doctrine was dismissed by former Popes, the doctrine was used to exploit indigenous people right up to the 20th century. Pope Francis while in Canada was implored to reject that doctrine  And guess what?” He did it! At least that I is my interpretation of his words, for what he said is clearly incompatible with that doctrine.

According to Niigaan Sinclair, writing in the Winnipeg Free Press, “Pope Francis has rebuked over 500 years of how the church and Catholics treated Indigenous people.” Sinclair pointed out how in 1550, almost 500 years ago, a trial took place among Catholic leaders at Valladolid where the question was: are Indigenous Peoples human? Today, it seems incomprehensible that such a question could even be asked, but in 1550, the idea that indigenous people might be human was radical. Until then, the Popes had declared that indigenous people could be robbed of their land and must be converted while authorizing the use of brutal and even murderous force against them. It was a heinous doctrine that required a heinous world view—white male supremacy—to found it. It was not confined to Catholics but was the common European attitude to indigenous peoples everywhere.

Catholic leaders had a hard time coming to a final decision on the issue and hence acquiesced in violence, evangelization and yes, even genocide for the next 500 years. At least that was the case until now. On July 28 in Quebec City, Canada, Pope Francis asked a monumental question: “How about our relationships with those who are not ‘one of our own,’ with those who do not believe, with those who have different traditions and customs?”

 The question is astoundingly simple and yet astoundingly profound. Then the Pope gave a very clear answer to his own question: “This is the way: to build relationships of fraternity with everyone, with Indigenous brothers and sisters, with every sister and brother we meet, because the presence of God is reflected in each of their faces.”

 Pope Francis gave a theological answer to the question. I would have given a more naturalistic answer. I would have said, this is because ‘we feel the humanity in the indigenous people as we feel it in our ourselves.’ But either way, the answer really is the same.

 Niigaan Sinclair said this in response: “In a simple statement that rebuked over 500 years of Catholic doctrine, the Pope had pronounced Indigenous cultures and traditions are valuable, worthy on their own terms, and represent “the presence of God.”

Sinclair explored the idea further by speculating what this revolutionary idea of Pope Francis means in practice:

 “Bishops and priests must now “build relationships of fraternity” with Indigenous ways, instead of forcing us to give up our songs, stories, and traditions. Because, finally, after 500 years, the church finally recognizes us as human. Forgive me if I don’t give the Pope a standing ovation — as the priests and bishops did — but I do recognize a step when I see one.”

 

So far, I have not read any other pundit who has recognized the significance of Pope Francis’ remarks, but Sinclair has done so. This is how he characterized those remarks: “The impact of Pope Francis’ new doctrine is nothing short of a game-changer for Catholicism in Canada (and, I guess, the world).

Sinclair showed how significant the Papal comments are:

“It means Indigenous languages, cultures and ceremonies must be recognized as legitimate spiritual expressions by every member of the Catholic Church. It means any effort to destroy Indigenous traditions is to attack the “presence of God.” It means the purpose of the Canadian residential school system — to eradicate “the Indian in the child,” to use an infamous phrase — was invalid in the eyes of this Pope.”

 

I acknowledge that I scoffed at the suggestion that the Pope would discard 500 years of Catholic history—even ignominious history such as the Doctrine of Discovery—but that is exactly what he did. It was a historical moment! Indigenous people should be proud of what they have achieved. It is truly, deeply momentous.

Pope Francis summed up his thoughts in Quebec this way:

 Thinking about the process of healing and reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, never again can the Christian community allow itself to be infected by the idea that one culture is superior to others or that it is legitimate to employ ways of coercing others.”

 

I am not aware of any more profound remarks made by any Pope in the past 500 years and they were made in Canada at the behest of the indigenous people of Canada! This was a great day.

So forget about the Pope’s apology, forget about the doctrine of discovery, what Pope Francis said in Canada was a miracle.  It was magnificent.   I think in his own humble way, without fancy words, Pope Francis did do what Niigaan Sinclair wanted him to do—he called for truth, love, and justice.

The Doctrine of Discovery Moves from Religion to Politics and Law

The Doctrine of Discovery originated as policy in the 15th century as a result of Papal Bulls (decrees) to the monarchs of Portugal and Spain.  According to According to Olive Patricia Dickason and William Newbigging in their book A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations this amounted to a “virtual declaration of war against all non-Christians and an official sanction of the conquest, colonization, and eventual non exploitation of non-Christian people and their territories.”

Yesterday, I promised that I would opine on the historic comments of Pope Francis in Quebec last week.  I have decided to make a few more comments on the Doctrine of Discovery today before I do that tomorrow.

As a result of a conversation yesterday, with a friend who is a professor of Religious studies, and clearly knows a lot more about the Doctrine of Discovery than I do, and says that the Doctrine of Discovery was repudiated by Catholic Popes and church leaders more or less from the beginning. However, the attitudes that underpinned it, namely white supremacy and its corollaries, dominated western thinking for centuries. Those attitudes allowed the people from Europe to believe they had an inherent right, if not a religious right, to dominate the people of what they referred to as the New World. According to Olive Patricia Dickason and William Newbigging,

 

“The main principles of the discovery doctrine was accepted by European colonizers and remained an unspoken assumption until the famous U.S. Supreme Court case of Johnson v. McIntosh in 1823. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Marshall noted that the European colonizers had assumed dominion over North and South America during the Age of Discovery, and that the indigenous peoples had lost their rights to absolute sovereignty, but they did retain the right of occupancy in their own lands. In addition, Marshall claimed that the United States of America, upon winning it independence from Great Britain, simply assumed this right of discovery and the authority of dominion from the British. Succinctly put, the colonizing powers assumed the right to claim possession of the Americas by virtue of their belief in the superiority of Christianity and its adherents . In turn, the US Supreme Court ruled that they had inherited their right of possession, by way of the British, from the doctrine of a fifteenth century pope who was attempting to curry favour with the King and Queen of Spain.”

 

The basis of the policies that flowed from the doctrine were based on a fundamental assumption of European superiority over indigenous people. That attitude poisoned the relationship between Europeans and Indigenous peoples for centuries even if Popes repudiated it.  The religious leaders could not erase the attitudes of assumed European supremacy.

 

Priests and Nuns

 

Priests have been not just been assaulting young girls and boys in their parishes. They have found other victims. They have found nuns.

I heard a former nun speaking on NPR and she demonstrated this phenomenon. She said that when she was a nun she was not allowed to think for herself. She was always taught that priests were superior to her, as was her Mother Superior. It was her duty to do as they directed without question. With hindsight, she believes this was spiritual abuse that prepared the way for later physical abuse.

One day a priest came to visit her in her room, and he started to remove her clothes. She told him, “You are not allowed to do this.”  He continued his actions. He continued to remove her clothes and then raped her. She felt compelled not to scream out. After all she was expected to do as the priest desired.

When the nun reported the incident to her Mother Superior, the superior got so upset that we was shaking violently and jumped on the table shouting wildly. And she was shouting at the nun. The Mother Superior was radically upset at the nun. She was mad at the nun for reporting the incident. Of course she did nothing to help the nun. Somehow it must have been the nun’s fault. The priests could do harm in the eyes of the Mother Superior.

Only years later did the nun realize that this was part of a pattern of abuse in the church. When she learned how some priests had abused young girls and young boys, the nun realized that she had to speak up. She had to challenge the abuse. She realized she had to speak out, even though other members of her church would not support her for that. Everyone believed the nun had done something she should not have done to lure the priest into trouble. It was the victim’s fault.

The woman who interviewed the nun could not understand how this happened. The nun explained to the interviewer that this is what happens often. When powerful men have power over powerless, defenceless, or vulnerable women (or even worse children) some men choose to use that power for their own self-satisfaction.

Such abuse reveals an ugly element of abuse. When the abuser is thought to have authority from God the abuse is even more poisonous. If God sanctions it, the victim feels, it must be all right.

Of course this is problem that is not unique to the Roman Catholic Church. It is a problem in every region where men have authority over women

This is actually what happens in many institutions. For example, this year in Phoenix it was discovered that a man who worked in an institution of seniors, had impregnated a woman who was basically in a vegetative state. When the powerful find themselves in control of the vulnerable, power often leads to sin.

The same thing happens in politics. As Martin Luther King said, the United States is the world’s greatest purveyor of violence. The United States is the most powerful country in the world, and it uses that power to get what it wants, as powerful countries have done since time began. The problem is inequality of power, not who is holding it.

Recently I suggested that maybe it is time to give women the chance to have power over men. I was not really serious about that. I don’t want anyone to have power over others because so often it leads to abuse. What I really want to see is equality, not just a changing of the guard.

Male Dominance: a Dying Ideology

 

There have been more discussions of the ongoing mess in the Catholic Church. Recently the highest Catholic yet was found guilty of sexually assaulting young boys. The mess never seems to stop.

It is my belief that this will never stop until the Catholic Church democratizes and adds women as full members including giving them the right to become priests. The bishops just don’t catch on. Pope Francis called a meeting of cardinals and bishops to discuss the issue in Rome. What took so long?

We heard a leading Catholic bishop from Chicago discuss the issue. He acknowledged that women had to play an important role in the church. He said before he makes any important decisions he always asks for advicefrom women in the church.  The bishop did not realize that this is not good enough. The reason is that he“decides.”  Women can give advice but only men decide.  That is a big difference.

The Roman Catholic Church needs transformation and until male dominance is ended it will never learn. The sickness in the church will continue. It is in its DNA. Male dominance must collapse or the church will.

I still remember seeing a portrait of the board of directors of T.E. Eaton’s and Sons just before they went bankrupt. Each and every member of the board was a man. Not one woman. Most of them, if not all, were also white. No one took into consideration that most shoppers are women. So how could women’s views be important? To me it was not surprising that a company that had been dominant in Canadian retail shopping went belly-up after 110 years in business. Could the same happen to the Catholic Church? Why not?

Male dominance is a dying ideology. It can’t die fast enough. It won’t be missed.