‘What we do want, is an apology, a public apology, not just for us but for the world … holding the Catholic Church to account’
By Tyler Dawson
The chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation has called upon the Catholic Church to issue a public apology for residential schools and for the order that ran the residential school in Kamloops, B.C., to release all of its records.
“What we do want, is an apology, a public apology, not just for us but for the world … holding the Catholic Church to account. There has never been an apology from the Roman Catholics,” said Rosanne Casimir, chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, on Friday, just over a week after the preliminary discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
In the days since the announcement, “our nation has been consciously, collectively grappling with the heart-wrenching truth brought to light by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc,” Casimir said in her first press conference, held over Zoom, since the discovery was announced.
Casimir said it was too soon to answer technical questions regarding the research itself or the costs and details of the preliminary findings, though reporters were told there would be weekly briefings. Instead, she thanked people for the outpouring of support and mentioned meetings the nation had held with B.C. Premier John Horgan and Carolyn Bennett, the federal Crown-Indigenous relations minister.
This is only the beginning
“This is only the beginning,” Casimir said. “We have a lot of work to do together. While the reality is shocking and we feel some level of anger, it is time to be gentle with ourselves and with each other.”
Casimir also took a moment to clarify a major piece of misinformation circulated by some media. “This is not a mass grave, but rather unmarked burial sites that are, to our knowledge, also undocumented. These are preliminary findings,” she said.
Last Thursday, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said the use of ground-penetrating radar had revealed “an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented.”
“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” said Casimir said in a news release. “Some were as young as three years old.”
Official records kept by the Department of Indian Affairs, and recorded by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, show that 51 students died at the Kamloops school while it was in operation, from a wide array of causes: drowning, tuberculosis, food poisoning and sleeping sickness.
Overall the Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated more than 6,000 deaths at residential schools across the country; the last closed in Saskatchewan in 1996. Murray Sinclair, a former senator and the chair of the commission, told CBC Radio that he believes the total could be as high as 25,000 dead, and called for an inquiry into all possible burial sites.“I suspect, quite frankly, that every school had a burial site,” Sinclair said.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic missionary order, ran the school in Kamloops; it operated as a residential school between 1890 and 1969 before being taken over by the federal government and ran as a residence for nearby day schools until its closure in 1978.
Casimir called on the order to release all of its records regarding the Kamloops school. Father Ken Thorson, with the OMI, said the order has already sent its archives to the Royal British Columbia Museum, but it is looking through other records to see if there is further valuable information.
Casimir noted that there was a “large discrepancy” between the number of dead previously identified through their records and what ground-penetrating radar has found.
“I don’t know if our records will shed further light on this discrepancy, but I’d hope it will, in service to the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc, in their search for clarity and understanding regarding the discovery in Kamloops last week,” Thorson said in a statement.
In the days since, there has been an outpouring of grief across the country and otherwise stalled or neglected acts of reconciliation, suddenly, became front of agenda.A school board in Calgary immediately moved to change the name of a school affiliated with one of the architects of the residential school program; the Senate created a national holiday in September; and many wore orange to commemorate those who died at the residential school.
Meanwhile, in Kamloops, the work continued.
The researcher, who has not spoken publicly, has continued the work of analyzing the ground-penetrating radar data; the nation says this preliminary work will be done by the end of June.
Ground-penetrating radar is technology used in archaeology, often to explore historic graveyards, that shows differences in soil beneath the surface; it doesn’t map underground, but rather shows changes that can be analyzed further to draw conclusions about what’s been found.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and B.C. Coroners Office have been contacted and are involved, though in what capacity remains unclear, both having deferred to the leadership of the First Nation, which noted the historically fraught relationship between police and Indigenous people in Friday’s press conference.
Asked whether the former Kamloops Indian Residential School should be torn down, Casimir said the First Nation believes it should remain standing.
“It is a very huge piece of history that we do not want to be forgotten.”
Residential school survivor Evelyn Korkmaz is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to release thousands of documents that detail the sexual and physical abuse of thousands of Indigenous children at St. Anne’s residential school in the last century.
Korkmaz said the federal government has not turned over 12,300 reports from Ontario Provincial Police investigations of violations at St. Anne’s in Fort Albany, Ont. despite an Ontario Superior Court order.
Following the court order in 2014, Ottawa released heavily redacted copies of materials generated by the OPP between 1992 and 1996.
“They’re useless if they’re redacted,” Korkmaz said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “This is part of Canada’s Indigenous history. We can learn from this.”
St. Anne’s Indian Residential School was run by the Catholic orders of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Sisters of the Cross from 1902 until 1976 and was funded by the federal government starting in 1906.
It was one of Canada’s most notorious residential schools. Indigenous children from Fort Albany First Nation in northern Ontario were sexually abused, punished by shocks delivered in electric chairs and forced to eat their own vomit, according to Edmund Metatawabin, a survivor and former chief of the First Nation.
Metatawabin was forced to attend the school between 1956 and 1963. He became a chief of his nation in 1988 and used his position to sponsor a panel for survivors to share their stories, putting together a report that triggered the police investigation in autumn 1992.
“The residential school issue is a very sensitive case for us. It was an embarrassing thing for us to face.” he said in an interview.
“It’s hard to say you were abused as a child. You want to keep that private.”
Metatawabin said more than 900 survivors of St. Anne’s decided to talk about their painful memories and testified to the police in the 1990s, resulting in a trove of information and criminal convictions of six former employees at the school.
In 2006, lawyers for former students and for the churches that ran residential schools, the Assembly of First Nations, other Indigenous organizations and the government approved the Indian Residential School Settlement, which included independent assessment processes to set compensation for claims of sexual or serious physical abuse.
However, many survivors of St. Anne’s have taken the federal government to court, seeking to reopen compensation cases that were settled before the partial release of the police documents in 2014.
A group of 60 survivors launched a case in 2013, claiming that the federal government failed to turn over those documents and breached the settlement agreement.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell, who has spent years supervising implementation of the settlement agreement, ruled earlier this year the case should be heard by a judge in British Columbia.
Perell had recused himself over his previous criticism of one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
In November, the Ontario Court of Appeal found Perell wrong to order the legal fight to be heard in B.C., saying the case pressed by survivors of St. Anne’s should remain in Ontario. The next hearing is to take place virtually on Dec. 31.
But Justice Brenda Brown of British Columbia Supreme Court issued a court order in May that permits the federal government to destroy the police documents in the new year.
The federal Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Department said in a statement Tuesday the government will retain the police reports until the courts determine the matters before them.
Metatawabin said the documents reveal wrongdoing by the government and the churches. “Instead of making amends, (the government) tried to hide these documents from survivors and from the public.”
The documents have significant value for the Fort Albany First Nation people because they contain elders’ testimonies on their history, Metatawabin said.
“These are sacred words from the elders,” he said. “It’s an insult to the memory of those elders that told their story, that the government took their words from them, and now they want to erase history.”
Korkmaz said these documents are important evidence of the violations committed at St. Anne’s.
“The government for some strange reason is protecting the pedophiles that were at our school,” she said. “A normal citizen of any country, who is caught sexually abusing a child goes to jail. … Why are the priests, the bishops, the cardinals being protected? Why are they allowed to do it?”
— Ireland’s sex abuse survivors Access to the comments
Revelations of sexual abuse inside the Catholic church shook Ireland to its core. Unreported Europe speaks to those who survived the paedophile priests and examines if the church has truly taken responsibility for the scandal.
Our lives are not as normal as other people who haven’t been abused. The abuse has just changed our attitude to life, changed our attitude to people. —Martin Gallagher, Survivor
Ireland has one of the largest Catholic communities in Europe. The Church is rooted into the culture of the country, but when Pope Francis visited Dublin in 2018 his words divided the nation.
Since 2002, multiple reports and investigations have shed light on nearly 15,000 cases of sexual abuse committed in Ireland between 1970 and 1990.
The pontiff had come to apologise for those crimes carried out by members of the Church’s clergy. For many survivors, the visit and remorse that came with it was far too late.
You know, you only have to do a few Google searches to see loads of examples of popes and bishops saying ‘We didn’t know’. Like the rest of society, we didn’t understand such things were possible. They did. They lied. —Colm O’Gorman, Survivor
‘’they would laugh at us and call us liars’’
Some 500,000 of the faithful were expected to welcome Pope Francis in Dublin. In the end, only 130,000 took part in an open-air mass, a far cry from the 1 million or so who turned out 40 years earlier for John Paul ll’s visit.
The abuse inflicted by Catholic priests is believed to have led to hundreds of suicides. Those that managed to pick up the pieces and face what happened, have been named ‘The Survivors’.
Martin Gallagher is one of them. During his childhood he was sexually abused by Eugene Green, a priest in county Donegal, situated in north west Ireland.
‘’When we were younger and abused, there was nobody to talk to, that we could trust. The priests, we couldn’t go near, they would laugh at us and call us liars,’’ Gallagher told Euronews.
‘’We couldn’t tell our parents, because they would have to go to the priest, and he’d do the same thing to them. We couldn’t tell the guards, because the guards and the priests, and teachers, were all big buddies, they stuck together, so we were alone.
‘’Martin here, came along and started investigating Eugene Green, and that opened up a big page in our life, because it released a lot of pressure, anxiety, depression, all those bad feelings we were building up for years. So just by talking to Martin the first day, that lifted a big load from my shoulders, that somebody was going to help me in the end.’’
Martin Ridge, a retired police inspector was the first to hear Gallagher’s story. In 2008, Ridge published ‘Breaking the Silence’, a book detailing the investigation he conducted against Eugene Green and the abuse committed by the priest between the 1960s and 1990s.
Ridge insists the Catholic church decided not to do anything to stop decades of abuse by Green, even though there were multiple complaints filed against the priest.
‘’I was glad I was there for them, because they educated me too, and they’re educating society,’’ Ridge told Euronews.
‘’Those people are experts because they know what they’re talking about, you see…Martin doesn’t need my platitudes but I’m so grateful, and so are the public for the likes of Martin.
‘’And it is not easy….I would like to say thank you Martin again, and again, and again.‘’ Ridge said.
Thousands of child victims
Martin Gallagher’s story is not an isolated case. Allegations of sexual abuse in Ireland concern some 14,500 children for crimes committed over several decades.
In Europe, Ireland is one of the countries most affected when compared to Belgium, Germany and France, which have registered around several hundred complaints since 2010.
Most of the victims who filed claims in Ireland were in Dublin, Ireland’s biggest diocese. Between 1975 and 2004, twelve priests were responsible for two thirds of the allegations filed in the capital.
In response, the diocese put into place the Child Safeguarding and Protection Service in 2002, alongside an agency run by the state. Andrew Fagan has been its director and coordinator since 2010.
‘’When it became known that, you know, priests had behaved in an abusive way towards children, that was understood as a problem for the priest, not as a problem for the child, or for other children.
‘’For a long time, it’s not as if the diocese and authorities didn’t do anything about those situations, they did do things, but they were all about trying to fix up the priest and send him back, and they were not child centered, you know, they did not prioritise the safety of children.
‘’Even though lots of things have changed, I’m not sure the perception has changed. I think that a lot of people still think it’s a bit risky to allow your children to be involved in church activities, so I would say that there are a lot of parents who have made a decision to distance themselves from the church,’’ Fagan said.
‘’I was raped with the burning candle’’
48-year-old Darren McGavin is another survivor of sexual abuse. His abuser, Tony Walsh, is currently in prison for raping more than 200 children in the suburb of Ballyfermot, where Darren grew up in a violent family.
‘’At the age of seven when I went to that school, he became the parish priest, so he was adorned,’’ Darren told Euronews.
‘’He was also an impersonator of Elvis Presley, so he was in a thing called ‘The All Priest Show’, and they went around the country in halls, in clubs, they got paid! So, everyone thought “isn’t he brilliant, isn’t he great, how amazing is he. And then when he talks on the pulpit about his Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus is my friend, I’m gonna save you.
‘’He went home and told my parents – so the dirty secret was out – “I now know you’re beating that child and your wife”. So now both parents, which were adults, were vulnerable to the priest, and in his pocket, because he knows their dirty secret.
‘’So, the priest suggested that I take your son out of this environment, because you’ve damaged him, he’s acting out, and you’re beating him more, you don’t know how to deal with him. If he comes with me I can teach him love and he can serve at morning mass, and we’ll bring him to lovely places, take a bit of pressure off you.
‘’To somebody, a mother, of five children who are all going mad, and the husband was very rarely there, and when he was, he was beating the shit out of her, that was brilliant, my child is safe.
What if I was to tell you that a young boy was tied to a coffee table, bound by his hands to his ankles, and noticed a candle burning, a thin one, but just thought it was a clerical candle. And while I was told that I would burn in hell for all eternity, I was raped with the burning candle.’’
At the age of 12, Darren realised while watching a documentary about paedophilia, that his relationship with his parish priest was not normal. From that day, he started seeing a child psychiatrist, with only one fear: that the judge would not believe his testimony during the trial.
Detailing one of his meetings with the psychiatrist Darren said: ‘’The lady gave me the doll, and said to me. “Can you show me what happened?” And I said “you want me to stick my cock and my penis inside the doll in front of you?’’
‘’She said “What?”
‘’I said “well you told me to show you, so you want me to rip the doll and ride the doll?”
She goes “No, just show me”,
I said “I don’t understand, I’d have to do it, but you said it was wrong.
“Why do you want me to do something that’s wrong? I don’t understand that.”
So they were like “that kind of makes sense, we didn’t come across that before”.
So I said “how about just asking me what happened?
“So when I was asking, I had to keep asking them and taking the tissues, at 12, saying “are you ok?” because I had traumatised them. To me it was ok, because I was used to it.”
Now a therapist, Darren is able to help other victims of abuse. A survivor of five suicide attempts himself, he is one of the 10% of victims who have brought their case to the authorities.
In 2014, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Pope Francis estimated the number of paedophile priests in the Church, including bishops and cardinals, stood at 2%.
But during an investigation conducted by Spotlight in Boston, Richard Sipe, a psychiatrist and retired priest, put that figure at 6%.
According to Sipe, a paedophile inside the Church abuses 250 victims during his lifetime. If correct, for Ireland, this would amount to 280 paedophile priests and 70,000 victims. For the whole of Europe, it would mean 11,200 priests and 2.8 million victims.
Colm O’Gorman, also a survivor, and the Director of Amnesty International Ireland, is fighting to repair the damage caused.
‘’The way that the church conducted itself, and the hypocrisy and the corruption at the heart of the church was revealed, and that led to people in Ireland rejecting the moral authority of the church. It led to an end of the political dominance of the church here in Ireland.
‘’You know for decades the Vatican called us liars, they said we were telling lies, that we were fantasists, that this was an anti-Catholic agenda, that there was no cover-up. So now the Pope says there was a cover-up and we’re meant to think he’s great for acknowledging the truth? That’s the minimum.’’
‘’there was so much resistance in the Vatican to change’’
Marie Collins was also abused by members of the Catholic church. She campaigns to prevent abuses and child pornography online. In 2014, she was added to the Vatican commission by Pope Francis, to protect minors and fight sexual abuse. But she resigned in 2017, tired of the Vatican’s attitude.
‘’The commission was experts outside the church, child-protection experts from every area brought together to advise the Pope, to bring expertise into the church from outside. And I went along with it, because if the church was sincere in wanting to change, I thought that I should work to help. But I found after a couple of years that there was so much resistance in the Vatican to change. They were undermining the work of the commission. They were resisting the work of the commission, and really we were making recommendations, the Pope was approving them and they were not being implemented.’’
Summing up Marie adds: ‘’So it was a waste of time? The Curia, the civil service, the Pope’s civil service, they saw us on the commission as people coming in from the outside and interfering. The importance of child protection was ignored really, it was more politics.”
Church in modern Ireland
Pope Francis’ recent decision to speak out about the scandals inside the church shows a desire for more transparency within the Vatican. Now, complaints and testimonies about sexual abuse are passed on to the civil authorities.
But Ireland as a country has also changed dramatically in recent years. In 2015, it approved gay marriage through a referendum. Then in 2018, the country revoked the 8th amendment of its constitution, and allowed abortion.
80% of the Irish population is Catholic. The same population that voted for these two reforms despite opposing directives of the Church. Such numbers highlight a paradox: Irish society remains culturally Catholic, but has distanced itself from the Church as an institution.
It’s a trend seen across Europe. The only continent where the Catholic community has fallen or stagnated in the past few years.
Learning lessons from Ireland’s trauma
Ireland has since tried to heal its wounds and improve the security of children. Arguably, the country had understood that the Church itself would not fix anything.
An important lesson that other countries, like Australia, France, Poland, and the United States might heed where victims of sexual abuse inside the Church are only just being heard.
The voices of those abused in Ireland bear witness to the extent of the cover up, and the much too frequent response of the Church: silence or even worse complicity.
In the US, the Theodore McCarrick case, was a high profile example. The cardinal was finally defrocked in 2019 after historical sexual abuse allegations, that he claimed to have “no recollection” of.
A Vatican report pointed to failings by senior US clerics, Vatican officials, and popes, including John Paul II, who let him rise through the ranks despite accusations of sexual misconduct.
More often, victims have found themselves having to turn to non-religious bodies to be heard, with the hope of one day rebuilding their lives.
I am keeping my own faith, yes, I’ve kept my own faith and my beliefs,’’ says Marie, adding: But the institution of the Church does not mean that much to me now. The institutional Church has… really I’ve lost all trust in it. I still have a relationship with God and I will still pray, and I still consider myself a Catholic.’’
On the question of faith Colm O’Gorman said: ‘’ Do I have faith? I don’t have religious faith, but I have, I suppose, an even greater faith in humanity, in goodness, in life, in healing.
‘’And even greater faith in something that I know to be true, and that is that no matter how awful the harm done, no matter how awful the offense caused, that if we’re prepared to own it, to face it with courage, and with truth, and with compassion, and with love, and with the commitment to moving forward, then healing and recovery and progress is not just possible, it’s inevitable…this I know, this I have unshakeable faith in.’’
‘’It’s the living in silence, which is the most awful thing, insists Marie. Looking at both the past and the present she sums up: ‘’For so many victims, it’s been too much and they have taken their own lives, as we know. So we have to think about the countries where this is still happening, and think of the children there.”
McCarrick, one of the most prominent figures in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church before his fall from power, was expelled from the priesthood in 2019 after a Vatican investigation.
The 449-page Vatican report released Tuesday outlines how the two popes, as well as senior U.S. Catholic officials, were aware of the sexual misconduct allegations, including that McCarrick shared a bed with seminarians at his New Jersey beach house and an unsuccessful attempt to restrict his role in public life in the 1990s.
The report said there was “credible evidence” that McCarrick had abused minors when he was a priest in the 1970s but that the evidence did not surface until 2017. Before then, the church was only aware of consistent rumors, the report found, with McCarrick’s denials accepted for decades.
“At the time of McCarrick’s appointment and in part because of the limited nature of the Holy See’s own prior investigations, the Holy See never received a complaint directly from a victim, whether adult or minor, about McCarrick’s misconduct,” the report said.
“For this reason, McCarrick’s supporters could plausibly characterize the allegations against him as ‘gossip’ or ‘rumors.'”
John Paul II served from 1978 until his death in 2005 and was succeeded by Benedict, who retired in 2013 and is now pope emeritus. John Paul was declared a saint in 2014 and had appointed McCarrick to the prominent post of archbishop of Washington D.C., in 2000.
The allegations against McCarrick, the highest profile church figure to have been dismissed from the priesthood in modern times, date back decades.
James Grein, one of the men whose accusations of sexual abuse resulted in McCarrick’s defrocking, has said he personally told John Paul II about the abuse during a 1988 Vatican audience.
“He blessed me, he put his hands on me, then he dismissed me,” Grein said during a news conference in August 2019 in Manhattan.
He was among hundreds of child sex abuse victims who filed lawsuits in New York under the Child Victims Act, which allows individuals to sue regardless of when the alleged acts happened. The legislation was bitterly opposed by the Catholic Church and other religious groups and blocked for years by Republicans in the state Legislature.
Grein was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.
McCarrick, 90, who has been living in seclusion in the U.S., has previously responded publicly only to the allegations of abuse of minors, saying he had “absolutely no recollection” of them.
Against the background of the #MeToo era, tackling sexual abuses that have battered the Catholic Church’s reputation has been a major challenge for Francis, with victims demanding a crackdown on bishops accused of concealing or mismanaging cases.
According to the report, which was commissioned in 2018 and includes interviews with over 90 witnesses and details incidents and allegations of abuse, Pope Francis was given evidence of McCarrick’s misconduct only in 2017. Francis has consistently denied knowledge of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct.
The report “did not examine the issue of McCarrick’s culpability. … That question has already been adjudicated,” but the report said Vatican investigators did look at “institutional knowledge” surrounding his behavior.
A former archbishop of Washington, D.C., McCarrick was familiar to U.S. political elites.
He presided over the 2009 funeral of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in 2009 and was present at the funeral Mass of President-elect Joe Biden’s son Beau in Delaware in 2015.
The four U.S. dioceses where McCarrick served — New York; Metuchen and Newark in New Jersey; and Washington, D.C. — also carried out separate investigations that fed into the Vatican report.
It outlined how McCarrick seemingly managed to rise through the ranks of the church, despite accusations of alleged sexual misconduct with adult male seminarians and minors.
Cardinal-Designate Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington called the Vatican’s report “an important, difficult and necessary document.”
“Nonetheless, we know that if true redemptive healing is ever to commence — for those who have been harmed and for the Church Herself — this disclosure must be made,” he said in a statement in response to the report on Tuesday.
McCarrick has not commented on alleged sexual misconduct with adult men or on this report.
“We publish the report with sorrow for the wounds that these events have caused to the victims, their families, the Church in the United States, and the Universal Church,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, said in a statement.
Parolin said that he and Pope Francis had viewed the testimonies of victims and that in publishing the report “the truth has been pursued.”
Vercellotti says she’s relieved to learn the FBI is spearheading an investigation following the arrest of Findlay pastor Michael Zacharias, who is facing federal sex trafficking of a minor charges.
Her organization is now helping victims on the road to recovery.
“Later it may be easier to say, ‘why didn’t you just ask for help?’ But to realize when you’re in the middle, it’s very difficult. And you’re feeling all sorts of different emotions that makes it really hard to make a rational choice to speak up,” said Dr. Victoria Kelly, the vice chair of Education in the Department of psychiatry at the University of Toledo.”
According to Dr. Kelly, 93-percent of child sexual assault victims know the perpetrator.
“When you’re in a position of authority over a child, like a priest, you have a passport for credibility into their lives, and those relationships are often encouraged unknowingly by your family. You know, it’s an honor when a priest takes interest in you,” said Vercellotit.
Dr. Kelly says there are several red flags to look for if a loved one is being sexually abused. They include changes in behavior such as not wanting to be left alone or physical signs of trauma in genital area.
And as for the abuser, there are signs to look for too.
“Warning signs of the grooming behaviors could be if an adult doesn’t respect the boundaries that a parent has set for their child, or they don’t take no for an answer. They make excuses or reasons to give special attention to their child or separate the child,” said Dr. Kelly.
Both the doctor and spokesperson for SNAP are now backing the FBI and encouraging other survivors to come forward, whether it be to law enforcement or to others.
“As a parent, caregiver for a child who has experienced sexual assault, it’s also important that you stand up and advocate for your child,” said Dr. Kelly.
“When you’re able to break your silence, when you’re able to tell your truth, you will unconsciously liberate others who are sitting out there watching your broadcast saying me too, me too. This happened to me and that is how we heal,” added Vercellotti.
For help from SNAP you can call 1-877-SNAP-HEAL (1-877-762-7432).