Pope Francis has admitted to a group of journalists that what has happened to aboriginal peoples in Canada, and dare I say in the Americas, the South Asian countries, and Africa, was a form of "genocide".
A deliberate plan had been formed hundreds of years ago, during the time of mass European colonisation, with the help of the Catholic Church, to force aboriginal peoples to be transformed into petit models of Europeans — culturally, religiously, and socially. The colonisers realised that while the elderly would pass in time, the young were prime candidates for assimilation and transformation into their image.
We all know by now how this was done. Take the children to residential schools far from their communities. Isolate the communities on desolate, unwanted lands. Limit any governmental investment in the betterment of the aboriginal communities so that, over time, members would leave their reservations and enter the greater population. Those who stayed on reservations lacked proper contemporary education, housing, training in the trades, control of their lands, and even potable water to this very day.
Genocide is defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group. The aboriginal peoples of the world have more in common with the Armenian Diaspora — who suffered a genocide — than the average Canadian, American, Australian, or New Zealander. Wherever a First nation existed, colonial oppression occured, leaving deep historical scars within contemporary aboriginal families and communities.
So while Pope Francis, as head of the Vatican and the Catholic Church, did speak these words, we need to ask ourselves: Where do we go from here? What will the Catholic Church do to rectify the wrongs done over hundreds of years? Is the church responsible for what happened centuries ago in partnership with the colonial and present-day governments? But like the process of treaty management, this can only be answered over time.
The religious authorities of the Anglican and Catholic churches in conjunction with present-day governments could take their time as they have done in the past. Meanwhile, more survivors of the residential schools will pass away. Money will be offered in time and the surviving offspring will snatch what is offered up quickly. Money is money, after all. But what about justice for those oppressed, assaulted, manipulated, and wounded? I think it depends on how much money is offered.
Over these past decades both churches have shown the world how lacklustre their efforts were in seeking justice for those sexually assaulted by clergy. Once an accusation is made, they engage in a process of ignoring the accusations, denying involvement, hiding the accused, offering limited services to the victims, then finally allowing investigation by the police.
When an accusation is made the victim often stands alone while the predator/accused has access to the resources of one of the most powerful organisations in the world.
No future plans to treat with these isssues have been voiced by the church. Lawyers representing the church are surely hard at work trying to find a way to avoid the ultimate financial inquisition that is coming.
The Catholic Church has paid out approximately US$4 billion for its part in global sexual allegations levied against the church since the 1980s.
Presently there are approximately 1,700 priests and other clergy considered as credibly accused of sexual abuse living under the radar with little or no oversight from religious authorities or law enforcement. On average, the offence for which they may be charged is sexual assault, which carries a 2-5 year prison sentence, and they are often released on their organisation's recognisance.
The First Nations of this land, and many others, must prepare for the ultimate challenge to come. What do you want from your abuser? What level of justice do you demand? The pressure is on your shoulders, as it has always been. Choose wisely and with an open heart.