Dear Vatican: The bill is in the mail

A decade and a half since the Catholic church agreed to pay $29 million in reparations to survivors of residential schools, it has dispensed little of the money.

Ever conscious of protecting what’s theirs, the Catholic Church tried to shrink its share of the settlement costs by deducting legal and administrative fees incurred as part of the process. That didn’t fly in the court. In another move, the Church extended its cup to parishioners in a fundraising drive that raised only $3.9 million. None of that money has made its way to Indigenous people. Nor has the rest of the $29 million in settlement payments owed by the Church.

Rather than once again passing the collection plate to followers to pay for the sins of the fathers, the Church should have thrown a highbrow garage sale to declutter its upwards of $10 billion in holdings of real estate, gold and other precious metals not to mention high falutin art and rare gems. The Catholic Church of Canada alone is worth billions, a sum conservatively estimated by the Globe and Mail three years ago at $4.1 billion.

Now that the Canadian government has announced a $40-billion package of restitution and reform related to residential schools and other cruel methods of assimilation, it should follow-up by issuing an official invoice to the Vatican for its modest, agreed-to share of the reparations.  

This should be announced in the form of an international joint news conference by the Prime Minister of Canada and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. It should be widely communicated, including through coast-to-coast television. It could include a giant symbolic bill for $29 million, the Catholic church’s original share of the settlement payments, held aloft by Aboriginal children and parents or grandparents.

The ribbon-cutting could take place at the head office of Canada Post, where the actual official invoice is deposited and sent enroute to the Vatican. The news announcement could also include a payment deadline and how a penalty rate will accrue through missed payments, which would provide additional media opportunities to report the status of the church’s progress in making good on its restitution accounts.

So far, the Catholic church has been unwilling to venture beyond the apology stage, and even that step has been painfully incremental. When the Pope uttered the Church’s apology to Indigenous people in April, he was on home turf. Representatives of Canada’s Indigenous community travelled to the Vatican at a cost of close to $3 million in taxpayer dollars.

This week, Pope Francis will visit Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut and is expected to again apologize for the treatment of children in residential schools. Again, the federal government will be paying an exorbitant sum ($35 million) for the travel, festivities and logistics required to furnish the Pope with a soft-landing platform to express ‘indignation and shame’ and to seek forgiveness. This might strike many as little more than a public relations opportunity, again underwritten by the Canadian government and gifted to the Pope.

Extracting an apology from the Holy Father and the Vatican corporation – even though long overdue and long sough after — is low hanging fruit. More out of reach is getting Catholic brass to open their purse to make cash reparations to those who have suffered from acknowledged and documented sins. Attempts to nail down financial settlement details still seems to have gone nowhere.

On behalf of all Canadians, it’s time for the federal government to escalate efforts to get the Church to pay up. A well-executed, highly publicized, global press conference announcing the Church’s outstanding debt to Canada’s government for the Church’s $29-million share of reparations would be a good start.

It’s a strategy that fits wells with the Catholic Church’s own adopted modalità di funzionamento. A primary and valued currency of the Catholic Church is shame. The Church is well versed in the power of shame and its destabilizing effects. It specializes in leveraging shame in followers to great profit. Said the Pope this spring at an outdoor Mass in St. Peter’s Square, “Christians should be grateful for shame because it means that we do not accept evil, and that is good.”

But is the Church itself even capable of being shamed? Or has its internalizing and rationalizing of a sordid history of unthinkable systemic sexual and physical abuse and carnage rendered it indifferent? It’s time to find out.


Courtesy of Creative Commons