As Catholic Church fundraising falls short, Saskatoon bishop still hopes Pope will apologize for residential schools

When the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) was signed in 2006, the Roman Catholic Church agreed to provide $25 million in compensation for historical wrongs - and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) says the church hasn’t done enough to reach that goal.

According to a release from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, those who signed the IRSSA committed to the following:

  • Payment of $29 million in cash, which was directed to programs and services und the supervision of First Nations organizations, and to the “Returning to Spirit’ program. The diocese of Saskatoon’s share of this amount was $25,000.
  • A “services-in-kind” commitment, whereby various community services and programs worth more than $25 million were organized by the various Catholic entities to be provided for Indigenous communities. The diocese of Saskatoon’s services-in-kind contribution to restorative ministry was valued at $43,000.
  • A final fundraising appeal that was titled the “Moving Forward Together” campaign. This campaign was to also involve not only the 50 entities, but all dioceses in Canada, with a goal to raise $25 million. After two diocesan-wide collections were held, the diocese of Saskatoon contributed about $34,000 to this national effort, which ultimately fell short of the $25 million national goal.

The FSIN in a news release outlined its disappointment in the goal falling short.

“Thousands of First Nations children were victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse at these church-run residential schools. They were starved, shamed, and beaten for speaking their languages and stripped of their culture, traditions, and identity,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in the release.

“These wrongs were committed by the Catholic Church and our survivors deserve a proper apology and compensation for what was done to them; not broken promises.”

The FSIN repeated calls for the Vatican to step in and help with the apology.

“For Catholics to raise millions and build multiple multi-million dollar cathedrals and only raise $34,650 or $0.30 per survivor is shameful. Just as shameful as the acts committed against these children by priests, nuns, and institutions they worship,” Cameron said.

“If they can’t raise it in their house of worship here, it should come from the richest organization in the world, The Vatican.”

CHURCH LEADERS 'DISAPPOINTED'

In the diocese release, Bishop Mark Hagemoen acknowledged the disappointment felt by the Catholic church in falling short of its $25 million goal.

“I understand the leaders of various Catholic dioceses and groups put their efforts behind each component of the campaign. However, they were disappointed by the results,” Hagemoen said.

“If I was to summarize why the efforts yielded this kind of result, I would say that many of our parishioners, like many non-Indigenous Canadians, have been slow to understand the impact and the legacy of the residential school system, and this seems to be reflected in the response at the time.”

With news of unmarked grave sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, the bishop said he would support revisiting the fundraising.

“The discoveries of grave sites at cemeteries near former residential schools has drawn an even greater awareness of the need for an appeal to support the healing of survivors and their families from the legacy of residential schools,” Hagemoen said.

“I think Catholic members in our diocese and across Canada would respond with a heightened sense of solidarity and support,” he said.

Hagemoen said in the release he is still hopeful for Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologize on behalf of the Catholic church.

“I again state my support for such a visit by the Holy Father to Canada, and I believe that an apology from Pope Francis would bring healing to many and would help to further the journey of reconciliation in our Church and our country,” Hagemoen said.

Hagemoen also reiterated his own apology for the Catholic church’s involvement in the residential school system.

“I deeply regret and apologize that Catholics were part of this system which was designed to separate children from their families and communities and to assimilate them into a culture the featured a colonial attitude and approach,” Hagemoen said.

“I deeply regret and apologize for the damage done to children at these schools, which for many included neglect and abuse, and I apologize for the deaths that happened at these schools, with children dying far away from mothers, fathers, grandparents and families, and I apologize to the families and the communities who have not been able to honour children’s burial sites.”

POPE'S APOLOGY WOULD BE 'TREMENDOUS'

FSIN Second Vice Chief David Pratt told CTV News the FSIN is upset the fundraising goal hasn’t been met after all these years and that the church has backed out of the agreement.

“They ended up backing out completely to their commitment and their agreement towards starting that healing fund. Obviously disappointed in that.”

Pratt said he is still optimistic that the church will do the right thing.

“I think anything that can help resource our survivors and give them the strength, and give them supports that they need, by all means. We would be very willing to work with the Catholic Church in those efforts.”

Pratt said an apology from the Vatican would go a long way.

“I think it would be tremendous for him to do that. We’re hopeful, we’re going to continue to keep the pressure up on them.

“The Catholic Church has been around for a couple thousand years so it’s not like they’re going anywhere and it’s not like were going anywhere either, we’ve been around just as long if not more.

“We just wanted to reiterate our plan and our calls for the Pope to do what’s right.”