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Letter to the Editors: The Catholic Church Did Not Call Accountability Unfair

Written by
Austin Mokry
and
and
July 7, 2021
Letter to the Editors: The Catholic Church Did Not Call Accountability Unfair

On June 18, Arthur published an article by Cheyenne Wood titled “Catholic Church Calls Accountability ‘Unfair.’” This article is a response to that one; I recommend you read Cheyenne’s piece before reading this one. What I aim to do here is show that there are some very misleading claims in Cheyenne’s article that deserve to be corrected for the sake of truth and reconciliation between and among all parties involved in the residential school system in our Canadian history.

To start, the title of Cheyenne’s piece claims that the Catholic Church calls accountability unfair, but the piece itself focuses on some comments made by Cardinal Collins: the archbishop of the diocese of Toronto. This is important to note, because it is not the case that everything the Cardinal believes or teaches is automatically representative of the belief of the entire Church. In order to claim that the Catholic Church itself calls accountability unfair, Cheyenne would have to provide evidence in the form of an official dogma or doctrine of the Church promulgated in some official way, such as through a published document from an ecumenical council, synod of bishops, papal bull, or other such medium. In the absence of such evidence, the most that Cheyenne’s article can demonstrate is that one Catholic bishop calls accountability unfair – not the whole Catholic Church.

That said, as far as Cardinal Collins is concerned, he did not call accountability unfair. Cheyenne’s article claims that Cardinal Collins objected to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s call for the Church to accept responsibility for its role in the residential school system and provide the necessary records. However, this is not the case at all. Rather, Cardinal Collins objects to Trudeau implying that there are secret records being withheld by the Church somewhere in the Vatican. As he clearly stated in a June 6 interview with CTV: “To suggest that the Catholic Church or the bishops or the Vatican or somebody is trying to hide documents is just unfair.” So, it is not that Cardinal Collins is arguing that the Church should not take responsibility for its role, nor is he claiming that it is unfair to seek to see the Church’s records. Instead, he thinks it is unfair to claim that the Church is intentionally hiding records without evidence. Now, Cheyenne may indeed believe that the Church is in fact hiding records, but that is besides the point. The point is that Cardinal Collins never claimed that holding the Church accountable is unfair; he claimed that Trudeau accusing the Church of hiding records without evidence is unfair.

Furthermore, referring to records pertaining to some residential schools run by the Church, Cheyenne claims in the article that “it is widely believed that the Church relocated them to the Vatican.” I should note that Cheyenne asserts this claim without providing any evidence, and Cardinal Collins is unaware of any evidence as well. That said, if Cheyenne or Trudeau does have any evidence of hidden records, then Cardinal Collins would be happy to consider the possibility, as he stated in a June 6 interview with CBC news: “the idea that there are some secret records hidden in the Vatican – I mean if he [Trudeau] has some indication there are, well I’d like to hear it.” It is easy to accuse anyone of anything without good reason, but it is another thing entirely to support one’s accusations with credible evidence.

I believe that there were terrible things that occurred in the Canadian residential school system, and that justice demands that the truth be revealed for the sake of true reconciliation. However, the only way for truthful reconciliation to occur is if we are all honest with each other. Part of this commitment to honesty does indeed involve the sharing of relevant Church records as much as possible, and the Cardinal is in support of this, as he stated in the same June 6 CBC interview referenced above. But another part of this commitment to honesty involves engaging with what the Church actually says, believes, and does as opposed to accidental misinterpretations or deliberate misrepresentations. With the goals of cooperation, healing, and peace in mind, I hope that this article sheds light on what I believe to be inaccurate statements made about Cardinal Collins’ views on the matter of residential schools and relevant Church records in Cheyenne's article.

- Austin Mokry, Trent University Alumnus July 7, 2021

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