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Catholic Math: Truth and Reconciliation and the Catholic Church

Shubenacadie Residential School

One might think that  the “Truth and Reconciliation Process”, process for short, regarding Residential Schools would be the start towards a healing process. But how can we reconcile if one of the largest contributors to the abuse that occurred in Residential Schools will not take full responsibility for its part? 

If we as lawyers are to truly help find some type of reconciliation, then we must revisit the truth aspect, not in terms of the survivors’ tales since that has already been explored, but in terms of the process afterwards. If we are to look at the truth, then it is important to share the truth surrounding the Catholic Church’s role in this entire process.

For so long many First Nations people have dedicated their lives to the Catholic Church, and many have even devoted tens of thousands of dollars from their own personal savings to the Church. If we consider the First Nations as an entity, combined then its community members have made tens of millions of dollars in contributions to the Church over the years. In light of this fact, I feel it is important that much of this truth needs to be expressed. It is important to note that this paper is not an attempt on my part to kill people’s faith in the Church. I am only trying to convey a message to the mentality of those actors who played their role in the Churches’ defense during the process

That being said, this paper is about sharing the truth and if we are going to move forward in any kind of reconciliation process then this truth must be known. I will explain it in a timeline manner. This truth will be called “The Catholic Church Math”, which was articulated to my third year law school class by Mike DeGagné of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Many of the facts presented in this paper I credit to Mike DeGagné.

During the process the Courts, along with all parties involved, needed to discover who was at fault. This is important from a legal aspect since in any tort action there needs to be found fault once any damages are determined. 

In the early stages a few of the churches involved with running Residential Schools immediately accepted the responsibility for their part. These churches included the Presbyterians, the Mennonites and the Jesuit’s. The problem is that these churches only represent a small part of all those who operated the Residential Schools. In fact, over 70% of all Residential Schools in Canada were run by the Catholic Church.

When the process first started the Canadian Government was focused on the truth part, what happened and who was responsible. Countless Residential School Survivors were forced to relive their Residential School experiences to prove there were damages created by Residential School. 

To determine who was at fault the argument was left between the Canadian Government, which implemented the Residential Schools, and the churches that ran them. Neither side wanted to take full responsibility. So the lawyers on both sides came to an agreement that since the government implemented the policies that created Residential Schools, the government would accept 70% of the responsibility, leaving 30% of the responsibility with the Churches themselves.

Since the Catholic Church ran 70% of the Residential School in Canada, it would only seem logical that the Catholic Church would be responsible for 70% of the compensation arising out of the damages Residential School Survivors sustained. 

Since this compensation would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars the Catholic Church argued their case. They brought in their fancy lawyers from the Vatican who argued that the Catholic Church as an organization did not exist in Canada. Even though the Vatican is one of the richest organizations in the world and have amassed trillions and trillions of dollars over the years, the Catholic Church refused to pay any compensation to First Nations Residential School Survivors. Instead the Church left the blame to fall on the small components or entities of the Catholic Church that operated within Canada. The Vatican then shielded itself from these entities by insisting that these entities operated outside the church so therefore the Vatican was not responsible for the actions committed by these entities. 

Even though these so-called Catholic Church entities in Canada are controlled by the Vatican and send the majority of their money to the Vatican the Vatican insist they operate outside the Church. Basically what the Catholic Church did was cut off their arm to save the body knowing that these entities in Canada would end up bankrupt before they could pay any substantial compensation to the Residential School Survivors.

Since the Vatican freed themselves of any damages suffered by First Nations people in Canada, any compensation would therefore have to come from these so called Catholic Church entities. After much debate the Catholic Church entities in Canada argued down their contribution to the compensations for damages, and in the end the Catholic Church entities agreed that they would pay $70 million in compensation to the Residential School Survivors. The Federal Government stated that the Catholic Churches contribution of $70 million should go to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. This $70 million would go towards the healing aspect of the process. 

$70 millions – $20 million (In Kind Contribution) = $50 million

However, before paying any of the $70 million the Catholic Church argued that $20 million should come off the top for any and all services that were already provided by the Catholic Church across Canada since the Residential schools closed. These services, the Church argued, included funerals, baptisms, first communions, Sunday service, bible study classes, weddings etc., services that the Catholic Churches would have provided anyways. However, the Church now wanted to be compensated $20 million dollars for all the work they provided within Aboriginal communities across Canada. The Catholic Church called this $20 million, “In Kind Contribution!” This was accepted by the Court and therefore left $50 million of the original $70 million the Catholic Church had to pay to Residential School Survivors.  

$50 million – $20 million (best effort) = $30 million

Next the Catholic Church argued that they should have an opportunity to raise $20 million of the $50 million and promised they would make their best effort to raise the $20 million dollars. This was titled “Best Effort” and was accepted by the Court. However, the problem with this is that the Catholic Church’s entities in Canada have a hard time raising even one million dollars, let alone $20 million. 

80% of the money that is raised by these Catholic Church entities through contributions and/or fund raising etc. has to go straight to the Diocese. The Diocese is basically the administration part of the Church run by Bishops, who in turn send a majority of the money they receive straight to the Vatican. Even though the Vatican argued the Catholic Church did not exist in Canada and left blame to the Church entities, the Vatican still continues to collect money from these entities. In the end zero dollars of this so-called “Best Effort” $20 million dollars were raised by the Church and thus sadly the Catholic Church never paid one single dollar of this $20 million of $70 million dollars they agreed to pay to the Residential School Survivors. 

$30 million – $8 million (Previous Court Settlements) = $22 million dollars

Of the remaining $30 million the Church argued that $8 Million dollars needed to come off the top for previous court settlements that resulted when private individuals took the Catholic Church to court for wrongs that they as individuals suffered in Residential Schools prior to the class action lawsuit. 

$22 million – $6 million (Future Services) = $16 million

Now of this $22 million the Catholic Church argued that 20% needs to go to any future services the Catholic Church may provide for First Nation communities in Canada. These future services include funerals, baptisms, first communions, Sunday service, bible study classes, weddings etc. Although these services are services the Catholic Church would have provided anyways, the Catholic Church wants to be prepaid for these services they may provide. Furthermore, the Catholic Church wanted to have these so called future services subtracted from what they had to pay to Residential School Survivors, despite the fact that these services are paid for by the First Nations themselves since many community administrations include Church services within their budget. So even though the Catholic Church would receive payment for their future services through contributions made to them by First Nations, the Court allowed this 20% deduction from the remaining $22 million. 

So here is the math. 20% of $22 million is $6 Million that will come off the top for future services the Church may provide in the future even though they provide these services anyways. 

More legal skirmishes

After all these deductions, only $16 million dollars was left from the initial $70 million that was supposed to go to the Aboriginal Healing Process to help with the healing process of Residential School Survivors. However, before the Catholic Church handed over any of the remaining $16 million, the Church demanded that they have representatives on the board of the Aboriginal healing Process. These representatives, the Catholic Church argued, should have control over where the money is spent or where it is allocated. The Aboriginal Healing Process refused this demand, but stated that they would allow the representatives from the Catholic Church to sit on their Board. Moreover, the Aboriginal Healing Process would decide where the money is spent. 

In response, the Catholic Church refused to pay any of the remaining $16 million of the original agreed $70 million to the Aboriginal Healing Process. The Catholic Church started campaigning other Indigenous organizations across Canada, offering the $16 million dollars to any organization that would allow the church to control where the money was spent. 

Most of the Aboriginal organizations refused the Church’s offer. Finally the Assembly of First Nation (AFN) under Phil Fontaine agreed to accept the $16 million under the Catholic Church’s terms. However, Phil Fontaine resigned before AFN could receive the $16 million and when Shawn Atleo became National Chief he immediately reneged on AFN’s previous agreement and refused to accept the $16 million. Instead, Shawn Atleo openly insisted that the $16 million must go to the Aboriginal Healing Process. When the Church again refused, the Canadian Federal Government finally intervened and forced the Catholic Church to pay the Aboriginal Healing Process. 

However, the Catholic Church only paid $14.4 Million and kept $1.6 million. The Church insisted this $1.6 million was for administration cost. After evidence came in showing the Church lied, the Courts stepped in and forced the Catholic Church to pay the remaining $1.6 million. Finally, in December 2015 the Catholic Church paid the remaining 1.6 million.

So out of the $70 million the Catholic Church agreed to pay the Aboriginal Healing Process for the wrongs suffered by Residential School Survivors in the Catholic run Residential School in Canada, the Catholic Church only paid $16 million dollars to help with the healing process, even though 70% of all Residential Schools were run by the Catholic Church and 70% of all harms suffered by Aboriginal people in Residential Schools in Canada were attributed to the Catholic Church.

Some final thoughts

Shubenacadie Residential School

So in light of all these facts presented in this paper, how are we as lawyers supposed to aid in any reconciliation process if we cannot even hold those responsible for the wrongs accountable? 

70% of all Residential Schools in Canada were run by the Catholic Church, so a majority of the abuse suffered by Residential School Survivors were at the hands of the Catholic Church. Yet in the end the Church compensated the least amount towards the Residential School survivors. Moreover, there was no compensation to the adult children of these survivors nor towards the much larger impact Residential Schools have had on Indigenous people, such as the loss of culture, language and tradition. Moreover, the continued cycles of abuse and addictions plaguing First Nation Communities across Canada are also the result of Residential Schools.

So much has been lost as a result of Residential Schools and the major player that caused this loss was not held fully accountable for its role in this. If we are to move forward in finding any real reconciliation then those accountable should be held accountable. Moreover, the Courts themselves need to stop trying to place a monetary value on such things as Culture, Language, and Identity. These are the things that define an Indigenous person of who they are and where they come from. Such a loss could be illustrative to your arms and legs, because culture and language are just as much part of an Indigenous person as an arm or a leg is. But yet the courts are able to find a monetary value on the loss of limbs. Where is our compensation for lost Culture, Language and Identity? 

No amount of money can bring back many of the losses experienced by Indigenous people as a result of Residential School. However, compensation must be sufficient to provide healing, not just for Residential School survivors but for the generations that continue to suffer from the generational impact of Residential Schools. Perhaps then we can find the right path to reconciliation.

Michael William McDonald is a lawyer from Sipekne’katik First Nation

See also: Weekend video: Magit’s doll

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  1. As a lay member of the church, I am deeply grieved by what this institution has perpetrated. I just read the letter put out by Cardinal Collins of Toronto where he claims that the Church paid $28million less court costs. I believe your facts over those presented by the Cardinal. I am going to forward this article to him.

    1. Personally I’d like to see the references here so that lay people can verify the facts for ourselves. I am deeply saddened and scandalized as a Catholic that this was perpetrated by consecrated men and women. You and I both know they mocked God with what they did, are not ACTUALLY Catholic and have wounded many. But this article is not referenced.

  2. The details above disgust me. What a sickening organization the Catholic Church is and to masquerade as messengers of God. Today, the discovery of a second unmarked cemetery containing the remains of hundreds of children was announced, this time in Saskatchewan. Evidence is mounting which proves the true horrors this organization has brought upon the First Nations People of Canada, to the shame of all Canadians. $70 million chipped down to $16 million by these irresponsible SOBs is hardly the case anymore. The facts before Canada and the world now point to deep criminality.

  3. How much were the Religious orders and others paid to run the schools? Did they make a profit? Where can we find information about this?

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