Over the summer, the Catholic Church grappled with the devastating discoveries of multiple mass graves at or near the sites of former “residential schools” in Canada. More than a thousand gravesites, many of which represented Indigenous children who died needlessly at those schools, were found. The fear was that we were only scratching the surface.
But there was another aspect of the story that was also disturbing.
In 2005, the Canadian government reached a deal with the Indigenous people in the country who had gone to those residential schools. Part of the “Indian Residential School Settlement” involved the Catholic Church raising $25 million that would go toward healing programs for survivors.
They raised less than $4 million. Only about half of that went toward the stated purpose.
And then, in 2015, a judge agreed with the Church’s argument that they had done their best to raise the money and essentially gave the Church a blank slate. They didn’t have to pay anything more into the settlement fund.
The $29 million they still owed residential school survivors? Erased.
The $25 million for healing programs (of which they raised under $4 million)? Suspended.
The $25 million they claimed to have already given in “in-kind” compensation to survivors? Hidden from public scrutiny.
If all that happened in 2015, why did it suddenly become relevant over the summer? Because CBC News learned that the Catholic Church had raised nearly $300 million for new buildings since 2005. That included $128 million for the renovation of St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto.
So finding money wasn’t the problem…
Now there’s a new bombshell. The CBC News and The Globe and Mail went to court over the summer demanding a release of all the documents in connection with that 2015 decision. Because so much of the case had not been made public, no one knew how the Catholic Church got such a sweetheart deal. The public — and especially residential school survivors — deserved to know more.
The same judge who issued that decision in 2015 heard this more recent appeal… and, perhaps shockingly, he agreed to make the documents public.
We now know that the Catholic Church spent over $6 million fighting for the result they wanted. Rather than compensate victims for what they endured, the Church decided to throw in millions for “legal fees, administration, internal loans and other expenses,” all to make sure those victims received next to nothing.
“Canada was never informed of this conflict of interest … no other church organization has claimed legal expenses, never mind legal expenses of $2.7 million,” senior federal government analyst Pamela Stellick stated in a 2014 affidavit contained in the package released last month.
We also know that Church officials involved in making sure victims received the money they were owed incurred expenses — like travel and lodging. Instead of getting the Church to pay for those funds, they tried getting reimbursed from the pot of money meant for victims.
Here’s another trouble revelation: The $25 million the Church said it already paid in “in-kind” compensation to survivors? According to the survivors, many of the services that were offered were “nothing more than attempts to evangelize and convert Indigenous people.” They included Bible studies and paying for priests and nuns to serve in various capacities in Indigenous communities.
There are still so many unanswered questions about the settlement, but the bottom line is that the Catholic Church screwed over Indigenous people for decades… and when they were finally supposed to be held accountable for it, they screwed them over again. They did it with the help of the justice system. Despite the Vatican’s bottomless pit of money, when it comes to people who suffer at the hands of Catholic officials, the Church always seems to find a way to weasel out of it.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former judge who’s now a law professor and “academic director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia,” responded to the revelation very bluntly:
The now-public court files show that the church “out-maneuvered everyone,” Prof. Turpel-Lafond said. “They were discharged of their obligations through the sheer aggressiveness of their tactics. This was largely legal trickery and not a substantive consideration of the obligations and whether they were met.”
Prof. Turpel-Lafond also noted that she disagrees with Justice Gabrielson’s decision. “I think he was wrong, and that it was a disgrace,” she said.
If the Church wants to make amends, it has the cash to do it. What it lacks is any kind of moral decency.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Kerri for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)