Remorse and reparations are what makes apologies real

Hill Times April 11, 2022

What makes a good apology? The senior leader needs to make the apology to show responsibility. The apology needs to be public to show honesty. Humans are highly adept in evaluating authenticity, that’s important. There’s also an art about the timing of an apology. And then there’s the two factors which rarely are shown with quality:  remorse and reparations.

The Catholic Church managed at least 60 per cent of the residential schools in Canada and also managed the majority of residential schools which have been recently searched for unmarked graves. The Catholic Church refused to pay reparations for residential schools, even though it has an estimated $4-billion worth and millions in Canadian real estate alone. The Catholic Church refused to apologize for almost seven years.

On April 1, 2022, Pope Francis heard from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis delegates and survivors of residential schools. The Pope apologized. Many survivors needed to hear the apology and the response from survivors who were in the Vatican for this historic moment was truly weighty. We won’t forget the image of former TRC commissioner Willy Littlechild dancing on the grounds of the Vatican. No one would judge what a survivor needs or does not need.

On a national level and on a policy level, some critique is expected of what the Church has done and what yet needs to be done.

The Pope did not apologize for the Catholic Church’s decisions made to make residential schools—he apologized for criminals within the church. The Catholic Church, by policy, attempted to eliminate Indigenous cultures through residential schools and created institutions to train child labourers instead of creating caring schools in partnership with communities. By pattern and potentially by policy, the Catholic Church actively protected child abusers in its midst. The Pope’s apology did not reflect the wrongfulness of these decisions and actions at all.

The Catholic Church didn’t say a word about financial reparations even as the delegates sat in gilded halls surrounded by millions of dollars worth of art on the walls. No word about the handover of documents which could help First Nations, Inuit, and Métis families find the remains of their children still lost.

Remorse is an essential aspect of a real apology and it’s sometimes more difficult to measure. There was certainly some sense of remorse in the words of the Pope, but his staff doesn’t seem to get it at all. This was evidenced by the museum staff who said they would show the Indigenous delegates the Indigenous art that is kept hidden from the public, then only showed a handful of the hundreds of pieces. When Indigenous delegates were there and took pictures, they were immediately escorted out. That is not remorse. That is offensive. And this act on its own demands another apology.

It seems that Vatican staff didn’t get the memo that remorse is part of the deal with this apology. If the Catholic Church doesn’t act quickly and show remorse and give reparations, the world will see it as a sham. The Vatican and the Canadian Catholic Church need to hand over every single record relating to residential schools immediately. The Canadian Catholic Church needs to take a hard look at churches on Indigenous lands and possibly hand over that land back.

The Canadian Catholic Church leaders and followers would be well-advised to show remorse for their church’s ancestors’ actions which created residential schools, contributed to unmarked graves, and created the long-term intergenerational trauma risk for Indigenous families. Perhaps the Catholic Church should allocate 60 per cent of its budget to Indigenous wellness for the next generation as a step towards reparations.

The apology is the only the first step. The Catholic Church needs to take many more steps to show remorse and make reparations.