Opinion – Latinoamérica21: Pope asks for forgiveness in Canada. And in Latin America?

Opinion – Latinoamérica21: Pope asks for forgiveness in Canada.  And in Latin America?

Pope Francis’ visit to Canada was supposed to have repercussions across the continent. He arrived on July 24 and stayed for six days to apologize for the abuses in residential schools created by the Canadian state and operated by different Churches from the late 19th century to the 1990s.

THE Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) documented these abuses in its 2015 report, arguing that the residential school system produced a “cultural genocide”. Generations of indigenous children were separated from their families and communities to be educated in schools under the explicit doctrine of “killing the Indian in the child”, forbidding them, for example, from speaking their language or practicing other aspects of their cultures. The report documents multiple cases of emotional, physical and even sexual abuse. This has been an individual and intergenerational trauma in indigenous communities to this day.

The CVR report contains 94 calls to action, in a wide variety of areas, including the justice, health and education systems, among different aspects of the cultural and political life of the country. Since the publication of the report in 2015, the topic of reconciliation with indigenous peoples has taken on a fundamental role in Canada, especially in public institutions such as Governments, the educational system, the media and certainly the Churches.

Some of the churches that ran residential schools began asking forgiveness for their role decades before the report. The first was the United Church of Canada in 1983 and the Anglican Church did so in 1993. Until now, the Catholic Church had not done so, but in recent years many indigenous communities have pressed the Vatican for an official apology. In March, a delegation of Canadian indigenous leaders went to Rome, where the pope, in an official ceremony, asked for forgiveness for the first time for the abuses committed by many individuals in Church-operated residential schools. This was an important step, and the pope has committed to deepening it with a visit to Canada in July to ask forgiveness, personally, on indigenous land.

The images of Francis asking for a broader pardon than he pronounced at the Vatican, expressing their deep regret for the abuses committed in the schools, or bending down and kissing the hand of indigenous leaders, in an act of great humility and sincere penance, were impactful. As well as the images of the hundreds of people, many of them survivors of residential schools, visibly emotional. These moments of great humanity demonstrate the scars of trauma from victims who went through the residential school system and the genuine commitment on the part of the pope.

The Pope’s speech, read in Spanish with his clear Buenos Aires accent, was a symbolic detail. And while the pope does not identify with the tradition of liberation theology, he does show a very Latin American sensibility in his commitment to justice broadly understood, marked in part by his own experience with poor communities in Argentina.

Your visit to Canada is a necessary step towards reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the indigenous peoples of Canada. But the church played an even more important role in Latin America, also as a counterpart to the state, including in schools for indigenous peoples. The pope’s visit to Canada, in this sense, should have repercussions across the continent.

The pope was generally positively received in Canada, but many also criticized the limitations of his apology. He did a very personal and emotional penance, but with a clear emphasis on abuses committed by individuals connected to the Church. At no time did he declare that the doctrine itself was wrong, nor did he apologize for the institution.

At doctrine of discovery, for example, through a series of bulls issued at the end of the 15th century, the church granted European crowns the right to occupy the lands they had discovered and to control the indigenous peoples who were there, in order to convert them to the Christianity. The doctrine was based on the notion of terra nullius, or “empty land”, which indicates that if the territory were not occupied by European Christians, it could be freely taken, regardless of the size or degree of sophistication of its population. It was a fundamental doctrine to justify European colonization and the expropriation of indigenous lands, which remains in force.

The pope has full autonomy to revoke the doctrine of discovery, an anachronism still painful in the 21st century. Francis, moreover, does not belong to the diocesan clergy, but to the Jesuit order, with a strong vocation for justice and a greater degree of autonomy in relation to to the clergy. And through his penance in Canada, he too has already broken with the doctrine of papal infallibility. He demonstrated that to err is human, as is asking for forgiveness. Therefore, the pope should use that autonomy and that humanity to take the next and necessary step towards reconciliation with indigenous peoples, not just in Canada but across the continent.

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