Priest under fire after sermon on Catholic Church’s “good” at residential schools


A priest in Mississauga, Ont., Has come under fire after a sermon referring to the Roman Catholic Church’s “well done” in residential schools, saying some might even go so far as to thank her.

In his sermon at the Merciful Redeemer ward last Sunday, Pastor Owen Keenan referred to the Kamloops, B.C., residential school where the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported uncovering the preliminary remains of over 200 children in anonymous graves in May.

“Two-thirds of the country blames the church, which we love, for the tragedies that happened there,” he said in a video originally posted on the church’s YouTube page but deleted since. Excerpts from his sermon continue to circulate on social networks.

“I guess the same number would thank the church for the good done in these schools, but of course that question was never asked and we are not even allowed to say that good was done there. I’m waiting to see what arrives in my inbox. ”

“Extremely harmful to reconciliation”

A snippet of Keenan’s comments sparked outrage on social media, with one person tweeting that the priest’s comments were “really disgusting” and “the Church is not the victim.”

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, a practicing Catholic, said she was “extremely disappointed” by her pastor’s comments about residential schools.

Reading a statement prepared at a press conference Thursday, the mayor called Keenan’s homily “deeply insensitive to Indigenous Canadians, especially at a time when Indigenous communities are suffering as they unearth more mass graves on the sites of former boarding schools “.

“Her comments show a fundamental misunderstanding of one of the fundamental tragedies of the residential school system in Canada,” she said. “The children were forcibly separated from their parents.

Crombie said the way Canada’s history has been taught obscures the truth behind what really happened: The federal government and many churches, including the Catholic Church, have run these schools for nearly 150 years. years, committing atrocities and silencing voices forever.

“No apology from the federal government or the church will be enough to undo the devastation caused by these institutions,” Crombie said. “But it is with an apology that we have to start. It is a basis and it is a fundamental foundation of our reconciliation.”

Dr. Suzanne Shoush, who is Indigenous, works for the Catholic Health Network Unity Health Toronto. She demands that the Pope apologize for the role of the church in the residential schools. She said comments like Keenan’s undermine reconciliation and illustrate why Catholic leaders need to intervene.

“This is part of the reason why we continue to press for the Pope himself to ask forgiveness from the indigenous peoples of Canada,” she said.

“It is really essential that it comes from the leaders so that we stop having these incredibly ignorant and harmful comments coming from all over the church. I think what we are seeing is extremely detrimental to reconciliation.”

An undated photo of Kamloops Residential School students and a priest. (National Center for Truth and Reconciliation)

Keenan also said in his sermon that while the church should apologize for participating in the “ill-conceived government project,” it should also wait to find out who was buried at the Kamloops site and why before “passing judgment. ultimate ”.

During a mass on June 6, Keenan said the find was “very sad” and a symbol of the “ongoing tragedy” of government policies against Indigenous peoples, but also that:

“We don’t know how these children died. We don’t know, we can’t know if they would have died if they had stayed at home.”

As he called for prayer and reconciliation, he also said, “Many people had very positive residential school experiences.

“They weren’t universally horrible. But there is still no room for the horrors that would have happened there.”

Residential school survivors shared horrific tales of abuse, starvation and neglect, and difficulties obtaining documents from the Catholic Church, which ran the majority of schools. The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report begins by stating that what happened in the residential schools “can best be described as ‘cultural genocide’”.

“The church has actively sought to exercise exclusive control over the welfare of these children and is therefore solely responsible for the conditions in which these children lived,” said Shoush.

In a statement to CBC News on Wednesday, Keenan defended his comments, saying he was trying to help his congregation struggling with negative news about the church.

“I am deeply sorry, embarrassed, ashamed and shocked by the revelations of abuse, destruction and harm done in residential schools across the country,” he said in the statement. “I do not endorse the system in any way… As a Catholic and a priest, I wish I could say ‘I’m sorry’ to anyone who has been harmed.”

The Archdiocese of Toronto said in a statement it had been in contact with Keenan “to convey the deep pain and anger” some were feeling. He “pledged to learn fully” about the history of residential schools.

“We apologize to anyone offended by his words,” said the archdiocese.

Pastor criticizes pride flags in schools

In the same sermon, Keenan criticized Catholic schools for displaying pride flags this month, saying the church had hoped they would show “courage” by displaying a cross or a heart instead. sacred. He described the pride flag as “the standard of contemporary sexual license” which replaces Catholic symbols.

Keenan did not respond to questions from CBC News regarding his comments to the LGTBQ community.

Crombie said he told Keenan his comments had no place in the city of Mississauga.

“He expressed his shame and remorse,” she said.

Keith Baybayon says schools help LGBTQ students feel more included and safe by flying the pride flag. (Jared Thomas / CBC)

LGBTQ activist Keith Baybayon, who is also a student trustee with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said members of the Catholic Church have stepped up such comments as more Ontario school boards agree to hoist pride flags each year in June. The flag has a special meaning of inclusion for the LGBTQ community that the cross does not have, he said.

“Flying the pride flag can really express the solidarity that school boards have with their LGTBQ students and staff, making sure they belong, their voices are heard,” Baybayon said.

“We are not removing the cross. We are not removing the sacred heart. They all go there to make sure that every person is represented on our board.”

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