Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner July 29, 2021
We have been shocked by the recent discovery of unmarked graves at the sites of residential schools across Canada. We feel shamed and sorrowful, having gone uninformed about his dark past in Canadian history.
There is the ghastly involvement of the Catholic Church at the official level, in 16 (of 70 dioceses), and by some of its religious orders.
Our society is in dire need of clear, open communication from the Catholic Church. But it is woefully unschooled in modern communications. Websites are not up to date, email addresses are lacking, press conferences an unknown thing.
Yet the bishops’ first responsibility is as teachers and communicators. Almost all need to take a journalism or public relations course. Hire competent people, not to “spin” the news, but to think ahead, advise the boss, and know the necessity of telling the full story to a waiting public.
That means investing in research, writing, and publishing, and in keeping good relations with media outlets and reporters. Because people sure aren’t going to weekly church services and hearing bishops’ letters anymore.
Today, skepticism deepens, negative public attitudes harden, and members of the church exit, as some Quebec Catholics have done publicly via the Declaration of Apostasy.
At the same time, almost all native leaders continue to call for a visit and apology from the Pope as a necessary condition of reconciliation. It is a paradox.
I think one cause of the failure of leadership is the exclusion of laypeople from it. Members of this church have been placed in one of two categories, one above and one below. Only one group makes decisions, makes policies, makes declarations. Some of them are wrong and harmful. The membership today is restless, angry and disillusioned.
It is clericalism: the undue reverence of the priestly class by the lay class, to the detriment of both. The Church decides even the most intimate details of wedded life. This absolves the baptized from thinking too much, or exercising proper oversight.
Those images of “sheep” and “flock” must be abandoned in 2021.
I was once elected to the parish council in my church in Quebec. The province had passed the Fabrique Act, whereby we had fundamental responsibility for financial matters. I strove unsuccessfully to carry it out. I visited the downtown archdiocesan office to complain because the parish priest paid us no mind, building a cottage in the Laurentians with donations. I quit, unable to do my duty. Sadly, I didn’t speak out publicly.
Disempowered people are demoralized. It has been one cause of the scandal, of thousands of priests worldwide involved in the sexual abuse of minors.
After the revelations at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St John’s, Newfoundland in 1991, there was a massive exodus of parishioners. Catholic schools were defunded in the province. Newfoundland’s dark humour soon spoke of the most dangerous job in the province being that of altar boy.
I speak of all of this because, although late, and bound to be disregarded by many observers, the Catholic Church in Peterborough has just issued a letter on the burning issue of residential schools. It is from Bishop Daniel Miehm, and it contains factual information first gathered by the Archdiocese of Toronto, and sent out by Peterborough communications director Deirdre Thomas, who was once Director of Education of the local Catholic schools.
It begins: “We acknowledge the terrible suffering that took place and condemn the system established by the federal government and operated by faith communities. It is a sin of omission by failing to oppose residential school policy and a sin of commission in staffing and administering some schools.”
It continues with answers to 12 questions, including how many schools there were, what the goals were, whether the Vatican holds secret archives, and what is the status of apologies. What is the purpose of the delegation to Rome planned for late fall?