Archbishop's comments on residential schools draw ire

·3 min read
Children's shoes and flowers form a memorial on Parliament Hill to honour the 215 children whose remains have been found buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Andrew Lee/CBC - image credit)
Children's shoes and flowers form a memorial on Parliament Hill to honour the 215 children whose remains have been found buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Andrew Lee/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.

A former commissioner with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is expressing her disbelief over comments by the Archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall about the role the Catholic Church played in Canada's residential school system.

On CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Thursday, Archbishop Marcel Damphousse admitted he knew little about the history or legacy of residential schools, and said the local archdiocese would have had little knowledge of what took place at the institutions, most of which were operated by the church.

"The little I know is that the government is the one that called upon the Catholic Church to help out. The Catholic Church [sought] the help from the religious communities at the time," the archbishop told host Robyn Bresnahan.

Marie Wilson, who was one of the three TRC commissioners, told Ottawa Morning that the commission specifically called on churches to educate their members about their role in that chapter of Canadian history.

"What stands out for me ... is the issue of ignorance and the sort of amazement there at how much the archbishop didn't know and sort of doesn't seem to know, even in this present moment," Wilson said in reaction to the earlier interview with Damphousse.

Damphousse did describe the residential school system as "something flawed from the very beginning."

The conversation followed the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried in unmarked graves on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

'Whole church is suffering'

During the interview, Damphousse said some of the children who were sent to the schools were themselves Catholic, and said the "whole church is suffering" in the wake of the discovery in B.C.

"It's part of who we are," he said.

Damphousse said he'd like to hold listening circles to hear from the survivors of Catholic-run residential schools and their communities, with the aim of providing some healing to those still dealing with the aftermath of the abuse and trauma.

He said he hopes to learn more about what went on there, and said he wouldn't hesitate to apologize during those listening circles.

Marcel Damphousse, the Archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning the 'whole church is suffering' in the wake of the discovery in B.C.
Marcel Damphousse, the Archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning the 'whole church is suffering' in the wake of the discovery in B.C.(Ellen Mauro/CBC)

"From my own perspective as just a human being, there's something absolutely wrong here," Damphousse said. "I don't understand how that can happen, and so, belonging to the Catholic Church, there's a great feeling of shame."

In 2015, the TRC called on the Pope to apologize to survivors and their families for the church's role "in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools."

Now, Pope Francis is under mounting pressure to offer that apology.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were placed in residential schools from the 1870s to 1996.

Wilson also urged Canadian politicians to seize this moment as an opportunity to search for children's remains at other former schools.

"We should also take it as urgent work — urgent, unfinished work that we've known about," she said. "And these children now have spoken to us this week and reminded us of the urgency of going forward and finding them wherever they are across the country."

The archbishop said that if records about Canada's residential schools exist in Rome, he believes the Vatican should release them. He said the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall has no such records.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting