Why some Catholic Quebecers are turning their backs on the Church over residential schools

·3 min read
Children's shoes are placed in front of a church in Kahnawake, Que., after the remains of an estimated 215 children were found in unmarked graves near the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., in May. (Chloe Ranaldi/CBC - image credit)
Children's shoes are placed in front of a church in Kahnawake, Que., after the remains of an estimated 215 children were found in unmarked graves near the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., in May. (Chloe Ranaldi/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

On Canada Day, while thousands of Montrealers gathered to denounce the country's legacy of Indian residential schools, Danielle Poirier was protesting in her own way.

She was submitting her apostasy, formally renouncing her Roman Catholic faith.

"I wanted to poser un acte, to do something concrete and official that said, 'I'm really disappointed,'" she said. "For me doing that with the Church and demanding apostasy was the thing that seemed to be the most relevant."

Like many Quebecers, Poirier grew up immersed in Catholicism. But like others around the world, she has been distancing herself from the Church for the past few years. Apostasy takes place when someone who was baptized in the Church publicly and completely rejects their faith.

The recent discoveries of unmarked burial sites near former residential schools across the country and the subsequent lack of apology by the Pope and the Catholic Church as an institution were the tipping point that brought about her official break.

Submitted by Danielle Poirier
Submitted by Danielle Poirier

"For me, it was something to say it's official, 'walk the talk,'" she said to CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Their numbers may not be huge, but other Quebecers are doing the same.

The Church does not compile provincewide figures, but in a statement, the Quebec City Catholic Diocese said that it has seen an increase in the number of requests for apostasy.

"Usually, we receive between three and five per month. In June, we received 16, six of which explicitly mentioned the residential school issue," Valérie Roberge-Dion, the diocese's director of communications, said in a statement.

But Roberge also pointed out that close to one million Catholics are still part of the diocese, "despite the current crisis."

Submitted by Kim Verreault
Submitted by Kim Verreault

Kim Verreault, a resident of Granby, east of Montreal, is another Quebecer in the process of submitting her apostasy after growing up Catholic.

"I wanted to show my support to the First Nations," she said. "So I wanted to send a strong message and say, 'Well, I'm done.' I don't want my name to be attached to the Catholic religion anymore."

For Verreault, whose mother was a former nun, the lack of apology from Pope Francis is what drove her to take an official stance.

In early June, the Pope addressed the residential school issue from his balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. While he expressed sorrow for the discoveries, he did not apologize.

"With sorrow I follow the news from Canada about the shocking discovery of the remains of 215 children, pupils at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in the Province of British Columbia," he said.

"I join the Canadian bishops and the whole Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people, who have been traumatized by this shocking news."

Later that month, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that a delegation of First Nations, Métis and Inuit would meet with the Pope later this year, between Dec.17 and 20.

While the Pope and the Catholic Church have yet to apologize, Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine issued an apology to Indigenous communities for the role the Church played in the residential school system in Quebec.

"Our most fundamental values are undermined when the integrity of families and the respect due to every human being are so blatantly disregarded," Lépine said. "In this instance, the Church was dramatically out of step with Jesus Christ."

For both Poirier and Verreault, however, an apology from the Pope is needed.

"Why wait so long and meet the First Nations at the end of December?" Verreault asked. "It [an apology] should be automatic."

WATCH | Apostasies in support of First Nations:

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.

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