Roman Catholic Bishop of Saskatoon, Donald Bolen.
The Catholic Church in Canada is expressing its support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People
Bishops across the country signed onto two separate documents this week outlining the Catholic response to calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The first text is a response to Action 48 of the TRC, which calls on church and faith parties to formally adopt and comply with the principles of the UN declaration on Indigenous people.
The second Catholic document addresses and renounces the history of the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery.” This is the idea that formulated in the 16th century that European settlers had the right to acquire lands even though Indigenous people were already living there.
The document from the Catholic Church this week says these were “illegitimate concepts and principles used by Europeans to justify the seizure of land previously held by Indigenous peoples.”
“The TRC process has brought about a painful awakening for many Catholics, and we see our culpability much more clearly than we did before,” says Roman Catholic Bishop of Saskatoon, Donald Bolen.
The Saskatoon Bishop says through these documents the Catholic Church in Canada is hoping to fully engage in the reconciliation process outlined by the TRC as well as distance themselves from the many errors and falsehoods perpetuated, often by Christians, during the “Age of Discovery.”
“We are trying to be faithful to the TRC call to action and repudiate any attitude which suggested that Europeans could come in and take what belonged to indigenous people,” says Bolen.
In regard to adopting the UN declaration, Bishop Bolen says the TRC was very clear that the church needs to “walk together” with indigenous people.
“There need to be tangible steps, so the church is taking up that offer and engaging Indigenous people in a new way.”
The two documents contain several commitments, which include a stronger emphasis on indigenous education in Catholic schools and seminaries, encouraging a stronger restorative justice model in the current legal system and supporting a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
In addition to being the Bishop of the Saskatoon Diocese, Bishop Donald Bolen serves as the Chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. He says he has been following the TRC process closely.
“My deepest response is a sense of gratitude that the TRC report didn’t write off the churches,” says Bishop Bolen. “What they said was we want you to engage and we want you to engage with the past and present honestly.”
Another recommendation from the TRC report was for Pope Francis to travel to Canada and apologize in person for the Catholic Church’s role in the Canadian residential schools.
Bishop Bolen says he is convinced this would be a positive step in reconciliation.
“The request from the TRC isn’t saying the pope is personally to blame for everything that happened in residential schools, but it is our understanding of family and the pope is the father of our family, so there is a desire for him to be involved by coming and meeting with Indigenous peoples and apologizing and I find that very convincing.”
Bishop Bolen says this TRC recommendation has been communicated to Pope Francis in a sympathetic way and the Saskatoon Bishop is confident the Pope will take the matter seriously.
However he does say Pope Francis gets far more invitations than he is able to accept, so Canadians will have to wait and see what happens.
In the meantime, Bishop Bolen hopes Catholics across Saskatchewan will all commit to concrete ways to engage in the process of reconciliation moving forward.
He also encouraged everyone to take the time to read all 98 TRC recommendations as well as Volume 6 of the TRC Report.