COUNTERPOINT: Fearful Catholic Church still won’t face the music

By Maryanne Mcneil
Chronicle Herald
May 28, 2018

Pope Francis delivers his urbi et orbi (to the city and to the world) message at end of the Easter mass, in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican on April 1.

Since the April 7 publication of my opinion piece about why I was walking away from the Roman Catholic Church, I have read with great interest the many responses it generated.

The great majority of these were unwaveringly supportive; however, there were some critical voices. For the most part, the ensuing debate has been healthy, prompting interested individuals to examine their own beliefs and, sometimes, to state them publicly.

Only a tiny portion of the responses went beyond the bounds of civil discussion into the realm of rather personal attacks. One small example is that, for decrying the lack of opportunity for women to serve in leadership roles in the Roman Catholic Church, I was called “an obvious radical feminist.That one made me smile; I’m still trying to decide if I should take it as an insult.

I do understand that when criticism is levelled at a cherished institution, emotions will flare and reaction will sometimes be intense. It takes restraint to refrain from hurling personal barbs and it seems that our present social climate has taken enthusiastically to modelling the opposite tactics: maligning, denying and dismissing. It’s far easier to do that than to examine issues through as honest and objective a lens as possible.

I had decided that it was better for me to allow this debate that I’d initiated to play itself out without wading into it again. After all, other opinions, both supportive and in opposition, are as valid as my own.

However, the repeated use of misinformation in some of the most critical pieces has prompted me to break my silence.

As a high school teacher, I urge my students to be critical readers, to examine sources carefully and to consider an array of opinions, even when passionate positions are held. When individuals who wish to enter the public discourse about an issue fail to do this, harm can so easily result. It does not take a lot of searching to find evidence of this in our current national and international situation.

And so, I feel compelled to attempt to set the record straight about a couple of the rebuttals that have been made, undoubtedly in good faith, but with some measure of misinformation.

Pope Benedict did not formally apologize for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the residential school travesty. In April of 2009, he met with national First Nations chiefs and issued a declaration of regret for the pain and suffering that our First Nations children endured at those institutions. This declaration fell significantly short of an apology because it did not admit culpability on the part of the Roman Catholic Church in the abuse that occurred at these schools, 70 per cent of which were operated by this institution.

It was, and remains, the Church’s contention that the government of Canada financed and was responsible for the schools, and that the church was merely contracted to operate individual schools. Therefore, the argument holds, while a diocese could decide to apologize for a particular abuse, the Church as a whole is above all that.

It is important to remember that the Roman Catholic  Church has had a long, tragic history of riding roughshod over non- Christian populations, the astounding  Concordat of 1610 between The Vatican and the Mi’kmaq standing out as a beautiful exception to this pattern.

The norm is exemplified by a long-standing doctrine, based on a Vatican document in 1455 called Romanus Pontifex, that has been used for centuries to give both Christian governments and the Church itself dominance over Indigenous peoples, along with the right to inflict harsh punishment, all under the aegis of bringing all peoples to Christ. Repeated pleas by numerous First Nations in North America have failed to convince the Church to annul this document.

Many have believed that Pope Benedict’s statement was an apology and was sufficient. If that were so, I doubt very much that the Parliament of Canada would be reopening that particular can of worms or that it would have voted nearly unanimously (with only 10 dissenting votes) to push for a formal apology.

It is difficult not to come to the conclusion that Pope Francis’s refusal, propped by the Canadian bishops, is rooted in the bottom line. With a formal apology, the Church would be vulnerable to class-action lawsuits that could result in huge payments to survivors. 

All other institutions connected with the terrible practices and resulting generational trauma of the residential school system have seen fit to apologize.  Several have been financially crippled by doing so. But they have faced their responsibility and done the right thing. Only the Catholic Church has failed to take this step, the only step that can lead to true reconciliation and the restoration of its own self-respect. Only the Catholic Church has held the line against an honest confession of blame in favour of self-preservation. I find a sad and terrible irony in that.

Ralph Surette, in his May 19 column, called my distress about the Church’s failure to find the courage to be vulnerable enough to seek true redemption for its large role in this national horror “nonsense.” As a notable local journalist, I would have thought that he would have conducted considerable objective research before bandying about this pejorative term of judgment.  The use of such a device in writing is usually intended to stifle further debate.  This seems antithetical to both democracy and journalism. Furthermore, it appears he may have satisfied himself with acceptance of the Church’s talking points on this issue. While it is understandable that people trust their most cherished institutions, the facts do not show that blind trust is warranted, and the bar is held high for established members of the Fifth Estate.

He also stated that Caritas International, the parent organization of Development and Peace Canada, is the world’s largest charity. I assume his statement was made to highlight the good works of the Church, of which there can be little doubt. All over the world, Catholics are going about admirable deeds of ministry — as are those of other Christian denominations, along with non-Christian faith traditions and those who adhere to a secular viewpoint.

It is the deplorable decisions of the Church, led by the hierarchy, with which I take issue. However, in my research about Caritas, I have found that it includes in its charitable spending all of its Catholic schools, many of which are in developed countries and are often funded in countries like Canada largely by the public purse. The two biggest chunks of spending under the Caritas umbrella appear to go to advocacy and administration (from the Caritas International site). While Caritas is certainly a big player in the global charitable scene, only in the Catholic Herald U.K. could I find reference to it as one of the world’s largest charities, based on roughly estimated numbers. I was not content to consult only one or two sources; the result of quite an extensive search did not support Mr. Surette’s assertion, though, of course, I am not privy to his sources.

Debate is good. Fact-twisting is not. When this is done unintentionally, correction without censure is necessary. For the powerful organizations that purposely engage in this kind of control tactic, it is reprehensible and dangerous.

For those who choose to remain faithful Roman Catholics, I applaud your faith and pray that it will sustain you.  I would never wish to corrode the authentic faith of another human being. I also pray for the Church to find its way again to be a global model of the teachings of Christ instead of hobbling itself in the machinations of the hierarchy.

For myself, I had to choose a different way based upon my personal disillusionment with a Church that seems all too often to serve a giant publicity machine that has overshadowed the sanctity of its own beautiful traditions and, for me, though I miss it dearly, even the very holiness of the Mass.

I have not, however, cast myself into the darkness of spiritual disavowal; on the contrary, I have found a welcoming community of Christian souls who worship together humbly and with open acceptance. Christ is at their centre, too; to attend a single service with them is to feel their faith in one’s bones.

There are, I believe, many pathways to the God of our understanding, and for me, the pathway will remain rooted in the teachings and love of Jesus Christ. I love and respect my brethren from other religious faith traditions and people of good heart and intent without specific religious beliefs — and I believe that they, too, as long as love and peace are in their hearts, are walking the same pathway.  I hope that others, including those who hold divergent opinions, will be able to share them in a spirit of honesty, benevolence and acceptance.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.