10 June 2021, The Tablet

Canada’s shame over boarding school deaths

Canada’s shame over boarding school deaths

Cardinal Ouellet, left, pictured with Pope Francis in January 2020
Photo: CNS, Paul Haring


The discovery of unidentified Indigenous children’s remains in the grounds of a Catholic-run boarding school has further damaged the withering moral authority of the Church in Canada. Pope Francis has turned to its senior cardinal for advice on how to respond

When Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, looks out from his curial ­residence in a westerly ­direction, he must wonder what he would be doing were he still Primate of the Church in Canada and Archbishop of Québec City. And he must breathe an immense sigh of relief that that is no longer the case.

This past week has seen a scandal of demoralising proportions unfold with relentless speed. In fact, it is the greatest moral challenge the Church in Canada is facing as it struggles to retain its dwindling credibility. The trigger for national outrage, shame and remorse was the discovery of 215 unidentified children’s remains in the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. This experience in national shock is not dissimilar to the roiling waves of despair and fury that followed the disclosure of the children’s remains in Tuam, Ireland, on the site of its home for unwed mothers.

But if Ouellet felt relief in being absent from his native Canada, it was short-lived. He was summoned to a discussion with Pope Francis last Saturday, 5 June, the same day that the Pope was also meeting that other Canadian cardinal resident in Rome, the Jesuit Michael Czerny, to try and fathom some of the multifaceted dimensions of the crisis unfolding in Canada and to work out a ­strategy of response.

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