The TRC's Bentwood Box was a repository for gifts and statements given to the commission over the course of its 7-year mandate.

The TRC's Bentwood Box was a repository for gifts and statements given to the commission over the course of its 7-year mandate.

June 15, 2015

OTTAWA – The Truth and Reconciliation Commission process has been "very, very good for Canada," says the Alberta bishop who chairs the corporation of Catholic entities – dioceses and religious orders – that ran Indian residential schools.

"It has brought to light the plight of our First Nations people in a way that allows non-native Canadians to recognize that the ills and problems of First Nations individuals and communities do have a history," said Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan.

Pettipas said he hopes his brother bishops will recognize that even if they did not have residential schools in their dioceses, they have Aboriginal residents who were directly or indirectly affected by the schools.

"We have to own that history. It isn't just people who are whiners and complainers; it isn't just people who have addiction problems," he said.

"The fruit of this whole exercise is indeed going to be in a new and a better relationship globally, across Canada between natives and non-natives," Pettipas said.

"I think a lot of Canadians have to find out more about our relationship with our native communities and try to improve that relationship, first of all by getting to know one another," he said.

"The person we don't know is always the person we fear the most and judge the harshest."

The TRC final report summary released June 2 called on the pope to come to Canada within one year and apologize to residential school survivors and their communities.

The pope should apologize for "the Roman Catholic Church's role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional and physical and sexual abuse" of Aboriginal children who attended Catholic-run schools, the report said.

Pettipas said he would receive the summary report's Calls to Action and bring them before the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) annual plenary in September.

"I will call on [the bishops] to take this seriously, to see in what ways they can fulfill if not the letter certainly the spirit of these Calls to Action," he said.

The Calls to Action include a range of issues from child welfare, education, health care, language and culture, to specific ways of achieving reconciliation with government, the churches, in educational institutions and in the media.

As for obtaining an apology from Pope Francis, Pettipas said he had no idea how that could be brought about. Putting a deadline and insisting that the apology take place in Canada might make it even more difficult to arrange.

"In a real sense it is for the Church in Canada to be involved in further gestures, not for the Holy Father," he said.

Pettipas said it's been difficult for people to understand the Catholic Church's decentralized structure, where every bishop "is solely responsible for his diocese" and independent, as are religious orders.

Not even the CCCB can speak for all the bishops, he said. "That's just the way the Church is."

The TRC report summary says residential schools were "based on an assumption that European civilization and Christian religions were superior to Aboriginal culture, which was seen as being savage and brutal."


It also blamed churches for giving the "moral justification" for colonization, and dispatching missionaries "to convert 'the heathen.'"

Pettipas said he understands the cry of cultural genocide when expressed from the point of view of Aboriginal peoples.

But he questions whether motives can be imputed to everyone who was involved in the schools, least of all the teachers and administrators.

He said he has heard enough of their testimony to know that for many of them "it was ministry."

While today we might look back and see things differently, they "saw it as trying to teach these young people to be able to enter into the mainstream of society and to do that successfully."

Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast acknowledged the harm residential schools caused Aboriginal Canadians.

"The truth is many children died there; many children were physically and sexually abused either by the staff or people that were employed there, and in effect the consequences were cultural devastation to the people.


"Harm was done," Prendergast said. "Many of the problems native people face now began as a result of this. It's inter-generational now and needs healing and peace."

On June 1, the Ottawa archbishop joined other spiritual leaders in public actions of reconciliation.

He spoke of how religious communities acted as "agents of the state" and how Canadian society "wrongfully believed the best way to assist Aboriginal peoples was by assimilating them into the dominant culture."

"Children were separated from their families and communities, forbidden to speak their mother tongue, and made to abandon their heritage," Prendergast said. "These actions contributed to the breakdown of Aboriginal families. They eroded cultural identity."


"Tragically, many suffered abuses in the residential schools that have left deep, lasting wounds," he said.

"I humbly ask for forgiveness from my sisters and brothers who were wronged. The Church is taking every step to prevent such abuses of Aboriginal children in the future."

Pettipas said the corporation which he heads of the 50 or so Catholic entities will soon dissolve, since it was created to negotiate and settle the litigation launched against churches and the government.