Bishop Dowd reflects on Papal visit

Bishop Thomas Dowd of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie sent his thoughts on Pope Francis’ six-day trip to Canada for two different reasons which both reflected on wrongs imposed on the Indigenous people in this country for centuries and more recently the residential school system.

“I joined the Papal pilgrimage because I wanted the people of our diocese to have a sense they were on this journey too and that we all share in the responsibility for the ongoing work of reconciliation,” he said in an email to ElliotLakeToday.

“We had people going to both Edmonton and Quebec City, including First Nations, Métis and non-Indigenous, and as our Diocese has both English and French-speaking members I felt it important to go to both locations.”

The bishop said he was not part of the Pope’s formal entourage, but all the bishops who participated had arrangements made so they could be part of events as well stay together in Edmonton and Quebec City.

“The experience of the apology itself in Maskwacis was very moving. It was a solemn moment, with people living all sorts of emotions,” he said of the Pope’s statement of apology and regret for the wrongdoings of Catholic clergy and Catholic membership who ran the schools for over a century. “It was a privilege to be there.”

Some Indigenous leaders and members hoped for direct reference to the Catholic Church’s involvement for its part in the wrongs perpetrated on the Indigenous cultures and its peoples.

That reference was not made directly in the Pope’s many addresses and masses.

Bishop Dowd said the Pope’s reference to the “Church” meant, in part the Catholic Church.

There were also concerns raised that the Doctrine of Discovery which gave explorers the right to claim ownership for their individual countries to land taken from Indigenous people was not specifically addressed by the pontiff.

“With regards to the Doctrine of Discovery, which is a legal doctrine and not a religious one, my understanding is that the original Papal documents from the 15th century were abrogated in 1537 by Pope Paul III, and this was confirmed and enhanced in 1741 by Pope Benedict XIV, confirmed again by Pope Pius X in 1912, and again by Pope John Paul II in 1984 on his visit to Canada. And there may be more occasions. I have no problem with the Pope repeating it again, but I’m not sure why these other interventions often don’t get mentioned,” the bishop stated.

With regards to the apology itself, let’s not forget that the term “Catholic Church” doesn’t just mean the priests and bishops, it includes every single member of the faithful.

“The Pope, in the name of all of them, apologized for those who participated in the residential school system, but he also pointed out that one of the sins that enabled the evil was the indifference of so many others who, while not themselves perpetrators, simply turned away or didn’t care.

“That was very significant. He also called the entire Church to action in a sense of collective responsibility for building a better future together. I worry a bit that some people who expected the apology to be phrased differently see guilt and responsibility as the same thing when they aren’t.”

Bishop Dowd pointed out that the Holy See has endorsed on multiple occasions the UNDRIP an international United Nations document that is intended to reflect the minimum standards of Indigenous rights around the work and is intended to serve as a benchmark in the review of a country’s Indigenous rights performance.

The Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie serves an area beyond Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury and north.