Archbishop Defends the Church, Residential Schools

By Dani-elle Dube
Toronto Sun
June 4, 2015

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast speaks about recommendations for the church made in Tuesday's Truth and Reconciliation report. He is Ottawa's 9th Bishop and was appointed in 2007. (DANI-ELLE DUBE/OTTAWA SUN)

The Truth and Reconciliation report is considered the beginning of the healing process for aboriginal survivors of Canada's residential schools.

But for some, like Ottawa's Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, the report and its recommendations spark debate.

Postmedia Network sat down with the city's ninth bishop to discuss his perspective on the issues surrounding the report. The responses have been edited for space.

Q: One of the recommendations in the report asks for Pope Francis to issue an apology to aboriginal Canadians on behalf of the Catholic church, despite Pope Benedict having issued one back in 2009. Do you agree with this recommendation?

A: I didn't know there was going to be this other request from the Pope and what struck me as rather demanding in the apology is that they wanted it delivered within a year in Canada and that they wanted it to address certain things, like the spiritual abuse they suffered.

Q: Why did this particular recommendation stand out to you?

A: Because I look for things that touch the church. I know the report does say that the church for them is important, but they also asked for royal proclamation from the Queen, but don't make the recommendation that she come to Canada and make a statement like they're asking of the Pope.

Q: You said it's a lot to ask for Pope Francis to come to Canada and issue a second apology. If it was done before with Pope Benedict, can it be done again?

A: Anything is possible. My question is, is the issuing of apologies going to be a constant demand for years and years? And would the next pope have to say it as well? I don't know. It seems to me that at a certain stage we need to say we've heard you.

Q: You've also said it was never the church's intent to cause harm to children in the residential schools, but rather give them faith, but that it might have been communicated in an improper way. Can you understand how people think you may be downplaying the extent of the harm caused by residential schools, and the degree of responsibility the church should take for it?

A: I think religious people came to offer a gift of knowing Christ and knowing the life of the Kingdom of God. The missiologists tried to learn to appreciate the cultures that were there by writing dictionary and reporting on artifacts and so on.

Obviously, because the way of living was different from theirs and perhaps looked down on it. People are always self-conscious of themselves and who they are and now that's been interpreted as a distain of the Native culture, but I don't think it was entirely that.

But I think the big thing that happened is that in the foundation of Canada the government took a different stance and I think the churches took part with not complete conviction because they wanted to give education to people.

But then the churches were caught up in the fact that the government didn't want (aboriginals) to speak their own language. And I think that's where we started going astray. But many people did benefit from the education that they received.

And I think with Truth and Reconciliation, part of the truth is the hurt that they experienced, but there were good things that happened there, too. But our focus right now is to heal the hurt.

Q: The Vatican has said that it considers the report a high priority. Do you agree?

A: Yes, the whole document is a high priority. The Catholic church wants to have the relationship with the Native peoples and our relationship with them to be a mutual one that continues.

Q: Do you think the church carries a large share of the blame for the damage done by residential schools?

A: The brothers, sisters and priests were working for government structures at the time but raised concerns over the inadequacies that were provided for them. Were we unwitting partners? In some ways, yes. Did we think it was a good idea to educate them? Yes. Did we want to assimilate them? Perhaps not exactly in the same way others might have.









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