OTTAWA—“So few people want to identify as Christians because the rest of the world thinks we’re nuts,” Green Party leader Elizabeth May told an Ottawa panel on faith and politics Tuesday night.
Nuts indeed, you might think, especially if you have been paying attention to the statements coming from Canada’s Catholic bishops.
The story, which has now gone international, started with the motion of NDP MP Charlie Angus to invite Pope Francis to Canada to meet with Indigenous people in a gesture of sorrow and to apologize for the Catholic Church’s dominant role in the government’s residential schools.
But gestures, even apologies from a pontiff who has repeatedly demonstrated his genuine compassion for the brutal treatment of Indigenous people in other countries, will always have a material side if they are real. That part has to do with making good on promises to assist Indigenous communities and to rebuild crumbling or non-existent infrastructure, especially for basic health and education.
It’s no coincidence that Angus is a Catholic and a person whose faith life has propelled him into personal action for marginalized people and especially the Indigenous people living in his riding.
Angus tweeted that he has invited some of the survivors of the notorious St. Anne’s Indian Residential School to Parliament to witness the Thursday vote to invite Pope Francis, a vote that is certain to pass.
I suspect that Pope Francis, who has worked to make compassion and justice the guiding light of his pontificate, would be more at home with the St. Anne residential survivors than he might be with some of the Canadian bishops who are sending him signals that the Catholic Church in Canada appears to care more about its wallet than the Gospel.
For Catholics like Angus and Tony Clark, who once worked closely with the Canadian Catholic bishops on income disparity, the bishops’ behaviour is “painful to see.”
Speaking on the same panel with Elizabeth May and NDP MP Carol Hughes, Clark pulled no punches over the bishops’ behaviour.
“That’s got to stop,” he said. “Who the hell are you? This is not acceptable.”
Referring to the Catholic Church’s role in reconciliation he said, “ It’s time we have it done properly and done well.”
Clark along with John Foster, who worked to move Canada to accept Chilean refugees from the Pinochet dictatorship, and Bill Janzen, who pioneered Canada’s unique private sponsorship of refugees, appeared with May and Hughes to tell their stories of Canadian Christian activism.
Although the event was organized to celebrate the book, Journeys To Justice, by Joe Gunn who heads the NGO Canadians for Public Justice, there were frequent comments of dismay over the Canadian bishops’ stand.
Jim Creskey is publisher of The Hill Times.
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