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Papal visit: holy water whitewashing

John Bell

July 23, 2022
Ostensibly the pope’s visit is to deliver an apology to Indigenous people for the Catholic Church’s role in maintaining the genocidal ‘Indian Residential School’ (IRS) system.
It must be acknowledged that a section of the Indigenous community, including some IRS survivors and their families, welcome Francis’s visit. For many, the apology is seen as a part of the healing process, despite it limitations. No doubt there will be many words of contrition.
But for others deeds matter more than words.
Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations and Chief of Alexander First Nation said at a press conference before the Pope's tour, "Sometimes I believe we are too forgiving. We accept sometimes because that's the way we've been brought up. We accept forgiveness… But there needs to be justice."
For them the details of the pope’s trip reveal the same old colonialism in new vestments. It shows the church and the Canadian state working hand-in-glove, just as they did with the IRS.
Decades ago the Catholic church agreed, along with the other churches involved in running IRS, to pay financial compensation to the victims and their families, and reparations to the communities affected. Since, the church bureaucracy has done all it could to bury records and documentation of its role and deny access to Indigenous investigators. And they have squabbled over the amount; Indigenous activists say $60 million is a minimum, perhaps more pending examination of Vatican records. The church only admits to less than $30 million for compensation.
Moreover, it isn’t reaching into its vaults for the money. The Globe and Mail reported that the church's assets in Canada totalled, “$5.2-billion, with $1.7-billion from cash and investments and $3.3-billion from property.”
But instead of handing over the money from their vast wealth, the church has launched a fund-raising effort in its “best effort” to come up with the money over 5 years. So it is church members, some them Indigenous people themselves, who will pay for the church’s institutional crimes.
Even if the pope’s tour is accompanied by financial compensation, he may go home with more in his coffers than he drops off. Huge rally/mass meetings are planned for Quebec City and Edmonton. Tickets are “free” but donations are expected.
And of course Francis doesn’t pay for his own travel arrangements or security. The federal government has committed $35 million to pay for the pope’s holiday – yes, the same government that can never find the funds to provide clean water or equal educational opportunity for Indigenous communities must have found the money in its other pair of pants. 
It’s a miracle, I tell ya.
That figure is the tip of the iceberg. Host provinces and communities on the pope’s schedule are shelling out millions more to make sure his trip is smooth – literally. Alberta is paying to pave the roads in, and “spruce up” the Indigenous communities of Maskwacis and Lac Ste Anne, where the pope is to visit.
The Alberta highways connecting these communities with Edmonton will be closed for the pope’s private use.
In Quebec City the route of the papal motorcade is being resurfaced. This despite the fact that part of that route was dug up and resurfaced a year ago. Don’t let the Popemobile hit a pothole.
The pope’s trip is about two things: delivering pious words of regret for the past, and shoring up its faltering business for the future. Expect days of simpering media coverage, and foregrounding of selected Indigenous representatives. Critical Indigenous voices, and there are many, will be kept as far from the microphones as possible.
Let’s let Métis visual artist and author Christi Belcourt, who’s family is from Lac Ste Anne, have the last word: “The irony is not lost on me that we must fight for dignity of our ancestors’ remains buried in unmarked graves while the Pope will be mere metres away as he drives on the new road built for his visit.”

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