Ontario pastor under fire for comments about 'good that was done' by residential schools

A Mississauga, Ont. pastor has issued a public apology for comments he made about the “good that was done” in residential schools operated by the Catholic Church.

Pastor Owen Keenan of Merciful Redeemer Parish made the controversial remarks during a sermon as he referenced the discovery of unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia, where the remains of more than 200 children were found.

"Two thirds of the country is blaming the church, which we love, for the tragedies that occurred there," Keenan said in a clip of the sermon posted to Reddit. “Now I presume that the same number would thank the church for the good that was done in those schools but of course that question was never asked and in fact we are not allowed to even say that good was done in those schools.”

Keenan has faced significant criticism on social media for his remarks, which come amid a national reckoning regarding Canada’s residential schools system.

In a statement sent to CP24, Keenan acknowledged “the pain and anger which has been magnified” as a result of the portion of his remarks that have circulated on social media and pledged “to do better.”

TThe apology comes as news surfaces that an estimated 751 unmarked graves have been found at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan.

“I am deeply sorry, embarrassed, ashamed and shocked at the revelations of abuse, destruction and harm done in residential schools across this country,” Keenan said. “As a Catholic and a priest, I in no way condone the residential school system, I regret deeply that these places existed, and I lament the harm that was caused. If and when I get a chance to meet survivors, I will seek their forgiveness.”

An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children attended residential schools between the 1860s and 1996

A report released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 documented a wide range of mistreatment at the schools, including the emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children.

It also noted that there were at least 4,100 deaths associated with the schools.

During a briefing on Thursday morning, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie read a prepared statement in which she said that she was “extremely disappointed” to learn about Keenan’s “deeply insensitive” comments.

She also added that she had already spoken with Keenan personally and told him “his comments have no place in Mississauga.”

“His comments show a fundamental misunderstanding of one of the core tragedies of the residential schools system in Canada: that children were forcibly separated from their parents,” she said. “For the first time we are truly confronting our history and learning the truth about what really happened. I grieve for the hundreds and likely thousands of children in the unmarked graves who never had a full life and experienced tremendous pain and suffering and deep sadness.”

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll free line is: 1 (800) 721-0066.

A 24-hour crisis line for residential school survivors is: 1 (866) 925-4419 if you require further emotional support or assistance.