Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq

The pope is still yet to issue a formal apology regarding the role the Catholic Church played in the genocide of indigenous children in Canada. This comes over a week after Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, called on the Vatican to publicly apologise following the discovery of the remains of 215 children found at The Kamloops Indian Residential School – a school which the Catholic Church operated between 1893-1969. That 215 appears next to another number: 150,000 children: children who were separated from their families and sent to attend Christian schools. This separation was part of a larger strategy created by Canada’s residential school system which aimed to forcibly assimilate the indigenous population into Canadian society.

And while the guilt of the Catholic Church (among other Christian dominions) is overwhelming, this is not the first time Trudeau has asked the Vatican to apologise. Trudeau asked the pope in person on a visit to Rome in 2017 and was met with the same silence as now. At best, what has passed the pope’s lips have been ‘words of healing’. But still no apology. The pope might, however, visit Canada in December and hold discussions with the First Nations, Inuit and Metis. In the meantime, still no apology.

All this begs the same question: why has the pope given no apology? After all, it might be argued that the blame falls on the actual perpetrators, not on his holiness himself. Blame it on the bad eggs, as it were; if only it were so easy to separate individuals from the institution they are a part of, believe in, and create. And so, assuming that it is not just because he is evil, we come to Papal Infallibility. This piece of Church dogma, dating back to 1869, was conveniently created just before the Catholic Church began its ‘cultural genocide’ in Canada a few years later. The convenience of Papal Infallibility is that it allows the pope to be free of error regarding faith and, crucially, morals. The pope, as God’s representative on earth, supposedly shares in the same total moral goodness of God. As God is infallible, by extension, so is the pope. But if the pope is shown to be fallible, then the moral supremacy of the Catholic Church is violently shaken. The pope has given no apology, for, it would be a tacit acceptance that the Catholic Church might not be the supreme moral force it purports itself to be.

The chances of an apology turning up at all are quite remote. It appears not even the massacre of children is enough for the pope to utter a feeble sorry. He can’t. The Catholic Church is at stake, and he cannot be shown to be wrong; he cannot admit the faith placed in him, his bishops, cardinals and wealth, might be misplaced. By consequence, everything is permitted. One need not go over again the iniquities of the Catholic Church: we know them all too well, though we may also suspect we will never know the half of it. Yet the pursuit for an apology will hopefully remain, a continual knocking at the door of the Vatican’s conscience. It needs to be deafening.