Catholic order that staffed Kamloops residential school refuses to share records families seek

B.C. government has asked Sisters of St. Ann to turn over documents ‘immediately’

Seven of Bronwyn Shoush’s aunts and uncles lie in residential school graves in Mission, B.C. For decades, she’s been searching for answers about how exactly they died.

By Angela Sterritt, Jennifer Wilson

The order of nuns that taught at the former Kamloops residential school, and others in B.C., continues to withhold important documents that could help tell the story of how Indigenous children died at the schools over the past 150 years.

The Sisters of St. Ann has never approved the release of relevant government records — documents that could relate to deaths at the schools — according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and the religious order.

“It might be because there were things that weren’t relevant to the school system or names of those students, as well as other people like visitors,” said Sister Marie Zarowny, a St. Ann spokesperson.

She also said the sisters have provided some documents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the residential school system, but is unwilling to share some records outlining internal workings of the congregation, as well as what is called the school “narrative.”

“What is in those documents, why can’t I have access to them?” said Bronwyn Shoush, whose father attended St. Mary’s residential school in Mission, B.C.

Like Kamloops, it was also staffed by the Sisters of St. Ann and administered by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Seven of her father’s nine siblings lie buried in the residential school cemetery. The children were all in marked graves that have since fallen into disrepair, she says. Yet she knows very little about how they came to die at school. Her father told her one sibling was killed in what he was told was an accident — falling on a pitchfork. Another died suddenly and others from Illness, but Shoush has few other details.

The National Student Memorial Register lists 21 children as having died at St. Mary’s, but to add to the confusion, none of her aunts or uncles are named.

“The longer it’s locked up and held or destroyed or held in secret, the more you’re likely to be very suspicious,” Shoush said.

The St. Mary’s residential school cemetery in Mission, B.C., where school children as well as nuns and the institution’s administrators are buried.

It also goes against the Truth and Reconciliation mandate as set up by the Indian Residential School Settlement agreement.

“This is a concern and remains inconsistent with the actions of the vast majority of other signatories to the Settlement Agreement,” reads a statement from Stephanie Scott, executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

‘Turn over these records immediately”

The Royal B.C. Museum that houses St. Ann’s private archival collection has appealed to the nuns to “provide better accessibility of these records to the public — but particularly to Indigenous communities whose members attended residential schools.”

Researchers can access the archives by appointment, but some have noted it’s not always easy to do so.

The B.C. government has also called on the Sisters of St. Ann “to turn over these records immediately.”

In the order’s defence, Zarowny said St. Ann wanted to be able to fix historical inaccuracies before documents were made public.

But Ry Moran, who guided the creation of the TRC’s national archive, says having a hodgepodge of the records conceals more important truths.

“The biggest inaccuracy is that kids’ own names were robbed from them and replaced with Christian Western names,” Moran said.

This is the St. Mary’s residential school cemetery. The National Student Memorial Register names 21 children who died at the school, but none of Bronwyn’s relatives are listed on it.

“We’re going back and figuring out what names, lands, territories, identities and villages were actually stolen from kids in the first place.”

The sisters taught at St. Mary’s, Kamloops, Kuper Island and Lower Post Indian residential schools where children experienced rampant physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Records can be forced by law

St. Ann is not the only entity to refuse to hand over the documents.

Father Ken Thorson of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate told the CBC that his congregation would not be providing personnel files of the staff at the residential schools citing privacy laws.

Those could include disciplinary records of nuns who treated children poorly.

But the TRC’s mandate outlines that “in cases where privacy interests of an individual exist, and subject to and in compliance with applicable privacy legislation and access to information legislation, researchers for the Commission shall have access to the documents.”

And it’s not just churches who have refused to give up residential school documents.

The federal government has been in court since 2020 trying to block the creation of statistical reports on residential school abuse claims.

The Supreme Court of Canada also ruled in 2017 that thousands of records documenting abuse at residential schools should be destroyed.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations said, “As per the terms of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, Canada was obligated to disclose all relevant documents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

It goes on to say, “the courts have consistently found that Canada has met its document disclosure obligations and that no further action is required.”

Still, those at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation disagree.

“The federal government and provincial governments also have not shared all the records they agreed to provide to the NCTR. We continue to negotiate acquisition of further records from many settler organizations — both religious and governmental,” the statement says.

For those like Shoush who want information about how her relatives died, it could take years of fighting just to find the truth.

Complete Article HERE!

Stop suppressing Catholics, outspoken nun tells Australian church leaders

Sister Joan Chittister, a well-known American nun, feminist and scholar.

By Farrah Tomazin

An outspoken US nun who was recently embroiled in a censorship row with Melbourne’s Archbishop has warned Australia’s Catholic Church it faces an inevitable decline unless it stops suppressing rank-and-file members pushing for reform.

The nation’s bishops are under pressure to overhaul the church after years of sex scandals and internal unrest, and one of America’s most prominent Benedictine nuns, Sister Joan Chittister, has now renewed calls for women to be ordained and for laypeople to be given more power over their parishes, declaring that the church needs to “grow up” if it wants to thrive.

Such reforms were meant to be thrashed out at the most significant conference Australian Catholic bishops have held in 80 years, the Plenary Council, which is scheduled to take place in October.

However, working documents prepared for the event have prompted concerns that some of the more contentious issues on the agenda could be cast aside or not addressed properly by the bishops, despite past assurances that “everything is on the table”.

“Everyone knows that the church in Australia needs a major overhaul of its governance, culture and structures, but instead of setting out a clear, concise and coherent blueprint for reform, this document is a ground plan for inertia,” said Catholics for Renewal president Peter Wilkinson. “It is very disappointing.”

Sister Joan, who this month headlined an event by the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald she shared concerns that “suppression by the bishops” would impede much-needed improvements. This, she warned, would prompt more members to abandon their parishes.

“There are one of two ways that this can end. The bishops can embrace the concerns and the need for resolution or they continue to ignore the laity – at which point the church will some day wake up in the morning and find out that the church is in fact gone.”

In a speech to a 3000-strong audience this month, Sister Joan added: “Catholicism must grow up, beyond the parochial to the global, beyond one system and one tradition to a broader way of looking at life … Why not married priests, women priests, or women cardinals?”

Sister Joan is a writer, feminist and theologian who has spent 50 years advocating for social justice and church reform. However, the prominent US nun found herself at the centre of an Australian censorship saga two years ago, when she was disendorsed from speaking at a Catholic education conference soon after Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli learnt of plans to include her.

Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli

The snub prompted a fierce backlash from rank-and-file Catholics, but the Archdiocese initially sought to dismiss the matter as a misunderstanding, saying the Archbishop had simply requested “that more names aligned to the themes of a national Catholic education conference be considered”.

Sister Joan disagreed, describing the episode as an “insult” to the Catholic education system.

“Of course it was censorship; there wasn’t any doubt about that,” she said this week. “Nobody has a right to tell anybody else what to think. That is not helpful to any organisation – state or church. You’re only burning it down from the bottom up if you do that.”

Sister Joan’s appearance in Australia comes at a critical moment for the church ahead of October’s Plenary Council. Expectations were high in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, which found the hierarchical nature of the church, coupled with its lack of governance, had created “a culture of deferential obedience” in which the protection of paedophile priests was left unchallenged.

However, rank-and-file Catholics have become increasingly concerned about the church’s will to change. Such fears were compounded in March when a working document prepared for the Plenary Council did not give enough credence to critical issues that members have been seeking to address.

Peter Johnstone, the head of the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, urged Australia’s bishops to use the Plenary Council to genuinely tackle the “existential crisis” the church faces.

Complete Article HERE!

Thirty years retrieving the history of Irish women

By Una Mullally

For my generation she was Margaret, without the nun’s habit; for the previous generation she was Sr Benvenuta, in full canonical clothing. For both generations her office in UCD became a place where secrets could become shared and thus diminished burdens, opprobrium eschewed and independence of mind encouraged.

I came to appreciate Margaret MacCurtain’s tenaciousness over 30 years and let me pay tribute to her on the occasion of her 90th birthday; to applaud her humanity, humour and brilliant teaching, and also her stubbornness, determination and creative subversion.

MacCurtain’s life and work reflect the second wave of the feminist movement in Ireland that emerged in the late 1960s, a reminder that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the announcement of a commission on the status of women. The commission’s report was published in 1972 and, alongside its many recommendations, expressed the aspiration that women would retrieve their own history.

MacCurtain was drawn towards the idea of the sun coming through a gap ‘because a gap between the fields in Ireland is usually a hostile gap’

MacCurtain embraced this challenge with gusto, despite the fact that, as she recalled: “Writing women into Irish history became a subversive activity for women historians in the 1970s. The universities were not ready for an innovation which, in the opinion of the historical establishment, possessed neither a sound methodology nor reliable sources.”

Despite such hindrance, as MacCurtain has recalled, there was a sense of optimism and determination about challenging this resistance in the 1970s, and for MacCurtain this involved building alliances within and outside academia. At a debate in UCD in October 1971, MacCurtain shared a lecture theatre platform with Mary Anderson and Nell McCafferty. Anderson suggested each of them make a short opening statement about the personal difficulties under which they laboured as women.

Anderson said: “I am a bastard.”

McCafferty said: “I am a lesbian.”

MacCurtain said: “I am a nun.”

McCafferty recalled: “The audience erupted in yells of pure, unadulterated pleasure. The exchanges that evening were a runaway train of untrammelled speech.”

That train ran into many barriers in subsequent years as there was still much resistance to equality and vocal women, but MacCurtain underlined the significance of translating alliances into meaningful retrieval of women’s history. Her mission was a way of giving meaning to her assertion, the previous decade, that the question of education “now lies within the domain of justice”.

MacCurtain remained a historian of the Reformation centuries; it gave her a wider sense not just of divisions in Ireland but also of common inheritances, including the heritage of the Middle Ages. But the spirituality that interested this Dominican sister most was non-sacramental; she recognised the greatness of Patrick Kavanagh and his epic poem The Great Hunger (1942) because he brought out both the longings and spirituality of the small farmers. Kavanagh had laid bare frustrations and suffocations, but also the moments of discovery:

“Yet sometimes when the sun comes through a gap

These men know God the Father in a tree:

The Holy Spirit in the rising sap,

And Christ will be the green leaves that will come

At Easter from the sealed and guarded tomb.”

MacCurtain was drawn towards the idea of the sun coming through a gap “because a gap between the fields in Ireland is usually a hostile gap”, and “you don’t go though gaps easily”.

Hostile gap

MacCurtain was the nun coming through the gap when it came to the retrieval of the history of Irish women and wider questions of justice and equality, and it was a hostile gap from which she had to emerge.

That is why, as well as being full of humanity, and carrying an older, Celtic spirituality, she had to be tough and brave in order to open up what she described as “a locked room in the memory . . . the time comes when you have to take it out and honour it”; to go beyond a self-centred quest “for a meaning to ‘my’ life”. She was a champion of what became one of the most important aspects of the women’s liberation movement: personal testimony born of personal experience; and, as she recognised, “there was no break in the development of Irish feminism”.

I thought of all these things as Lyra McKee was laid to rest after that extraordinary funeral on Wednesday; the funeral of a gay woman, from a Catholic background in Belfast, who found a home, love and, ironically, a horrible death in the Derry cauldron as a ceasefire baby, after which the failed politicians were shamed into standing exposed.

Margaret MacCurtain campaigned for an Ireland in which McKee could find solace and purpose. MacCurtain championed what she called “that larger dimension of history, that seeks to reconcile and synthesise the past, rather than divide people into camps and set antitheses between ethnic groups and religious sects”.

McKee had to emerge from a hostile gap to do that too; real leaders lead when they emerge from that gap, despite the vicious snipers who stand in their way.

Complete Article HERE!

Black sisters urge U.S. Catholics, church leaders to do more to end racism

Sister Beulah Martin, a member of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, center right, of Powhatan, Va., waves in Baltimore’s historic St. Francis Xavier Church July 22, 2019, at a Mass honoring jubilarians during a joint conference of black priests, women religious, deacons and seminarians.

By Carol Zimmermann

The National Black Sisters’ Conference issued a “clarion warning” to U.S. Catholics saying church members and leaders have not done enough to speak out against the sin of racism.

“In this moment of dual life-threatening pandemics; COVID-19 and racism, the voice of the church in America is, for the most part, eerily silent when it comes to the racial unrest in this country,” said the Sept. 16 statement by the national organization of more than 150 Black Catholic women religious and associates in the United States.

The group said they felt compelled to “hold up the light,” referring to an old spiritual with the same title, where light is held aloft to “expose the darkness of evil and sin, thereby destroying its power.”

“We are holding up the light,” the sisters said, “against the sin of racism that is still alive and well in the Catholic Church today.”

They said this has been happening “since the first Catholics set foot on this continent, armed with papal bulls sanctioning and blessing the enslavement of Africans and the removal of native peoples from their lands, all in the name of Christianity.”

This continued, they added, during the civil rights movement when Black Catholics continued to experience “racism, segregation, Jim Crow laws, disenfranchisement, police brutality, and socioeconomic inequality in society and in the Catholic Church,” while church leadership, “for the most part, remained silent and disinvested.”

And now, during this current moment of racial unrest, the sisters maintain that Catholics are not doing enough.

“Very few bishops have spoken out in support of the peaceful demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter movement; very few have called out the racism and hypocrisy of many white Catholic priests and laity. Sadly, the leadership of the church is not addressing the slaughter of Black lives in the streets of our cities by those sworn to serve and protect as a pro-life issue,” they said.

The sisters also questioned why the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops hadn’t “publicly issued a strong statement in support of the courageous actions of their brother bishops,” referring to Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, as well as other bishops and priests who have shown support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In response to the sisters’ statement, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, said: “We have great respect for the women religious who do so much for their communities, the laity and the church at large.

“We invite the sisters to be in conversation and deeper collaboration with their local bishops, many of which have spoken out boldly in confronting racism as an attack against the sanctity of life and contrary to who we are and are called to be as disciples of Jesus Christ.”

In a statement to Catholic News Service, he added: “In response to the strife, anger, anxiety, and anguish felt by people due to ongoing racism in our church and society, dioceses and entire conferences of bishops have had listening sessions, webinars, calls for prayer and fasting and task forces formed to confront racism.”

The bishop, who led the bishops in writing their 2018 pastoral, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love — A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” added that laity-led efforts responding to racism have been taking place across the country.

But he said that “until racism is eradicated from our church and society, it is impossible to say that any one of us has done enough,” and he said he welcomed “the light the sisters hold up to shine upon us all.”

Another focus of the sisters’ statement was the need to view efforts against racism as a pro-life issue, quoting Pope Francis who said: “We cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion while pretending to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

To that end, the sisters pointed out that every year tens of thousands of Catholics gather in Washington to demonstrate against abortion. They questioned if they would ever see a time when “tens of thousands of Catholic will gather to protest the sin of racism, which aborts the lives of millions of people of color every day in this country?”

“If we as Catholics are truly to ‘Open Wide Our Hearts,’” the sisters said, referring to the pastoral, then Catholics must “hold up the light of Christ against the sin of racism. We must speak the truth not only in love, but we must speak the truth forthrightly about the complicit, systemic and structural racism that continues to exist in the American Catholic Church today.”

If Catholics don’t commit to this, the sisters said, “it will make a fallacy of all that we profess as members of the one body of Christ.”

Until racism is eradicated, the sisters said they would “continue to hold up the light” for the church they love and “to which we have dedicated our lives.”

In May, the sisters issued a statement about recent deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police and said they would not remain silent about it.

They said that if the bishops’ pastoral on racism is to “have any moral legitimacy, then our episcopal leaders must give more than lip service to addressing the sin of racism that is destroying communities of color around this nation. As Christians, as Catholics, as people of faith, we must do more than just pray; we must model Jesus’ message to love one’s neighbor.”

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican women’s magazine blames drop in nuns on abuses

Pope Francis touches his ear as he meets faithful in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican during his weekly general audience, Wednesday Jan. 22, 2020.

By Nicole Winfield

The Vatican women’s magazine is blaming the drastic drop in the number of nuns worldwide in part on their wretched working conditions and the sexual abuse and abuses of power they suffer at the hands of priests and their own superiors.

“Women Church World” dedicated its February issue to the burnout, trauma and exploitation experienced by religious sisters and how the church is realizing it must change its ways if it wants to attract new vocations.

The magazine published Thursday revealed that Pope Francis had authorized the creation of a special home in Rome for nuns who were kicked out of their orders and all but left on the street, some forced into prostitution to survive.

“There are some really tough cases, in which the superiors withheld the identity documents of the sisters who wanted to leave the convent, or who were kicked out,” the head of the Vatican’s religious orders congregation, Cardinal Joao Braz di Aviz, told the magazine.

“There were also cases of prostitution to be able to provide for themselves,” he said. “These are ex-nuns!”

“We are dealing with people who are wounded, and for whom we have to rebuild trust. We have to change this attitude of rejection, the temptation to ignore these people and say ‘you’re not our problem anymore.’’”

“All of this must absolutely change,” he said.

The Catholic Church has seen a continuing free fall in the number of nuns around the world, as elderly sisters die and fewer young ones take their place. Vatican statistics from 2016 show the number of sisters was down 10,885 from the previous year to 659,445 globally. Ten years prior, there were 753,400 nuns around the world, meaning the Catholic Church shed nearly 100,000 sisters in the span of a decade.

European nuns regularly fare the worst, Latin American numbers are stable and the numbers are rising in Asia and Africa.

The magazine has made headlines in the past with articles exposing the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and the slave-like conditions sisters are often forced to work under, without contracts and doing menial jobs like cleaning for cardinals.

The drop in their numbers has resulted in the closure of convents around Europe, and the ensuing battle between the remaining sisters and diocesan bishops or the Vatican for control of their assets.

Braz insisted the assets don’t belong to the sisters themselves, but the entire church, and called for a new culture of exchange, so that “five nuns aren’t managing an enormous patrimony” while other orders go broke.

Braz acknowledged the problem of nuns being sexually abused by priests and bishops. But he said in recent times, his office has also heard from nuns who were abused by other nuns — including one congregation with nine cases.

There were also cases of gross abuses of power.

“We’ve had cases, not many thank goodness, of superiors who once they were elected refused to step down. They went around all the rules,” he was quoted as saying. “And in the communities there are sisters who tend to blindly obey, without saying what they think.”

The international umbrella group of nuns has begun speaking out more forcefully about the abuses of nuns and has formed a commission with its male counterpart to take better care of their members.

Complete Article HERE!