The assembly of Catholic bishops organizing Pope Francis‘s visit to Canada, where he is expected to apologize for the church’s role in residential schools, is soliciting donations from those hoping to see him.
RoseAnne Archibald, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says she was told by people looking to book spots for papal events on Ticketmaster that they were prompted to donate money to a registered charity.
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The charity in question is the corporate name of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Please see how inappropriate this is,” the national chief wrote in a recent letter to the Archbishop of Edmonton Richard Smith.
“We as First Nations people are all intergenerational trauma survivors, and we are collectively grieving the pain and suffering that Catholic-run institutions of assimilation and genocide perpetrated.”
A spokeswoman for the papal visit said donations are a way for Canadians and Catholics to help pay for the cost of the papal visit and are entirely optional. “No funds raised in this way will be used for other church initiatives or programming.”
Organizers added that unlike other papal visits, there is no admission being charged for his events.
The website for the Pontiff’s visit, which begins Sunday, says the assembly of bishops, along with individual dioceses, personal and corporate donors and different levels of government, typically all pay the cost of a papal visit.
It is estimated approximately 60 per cent of residential schools that operated in Canada were run by the Catholic Church.
More than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend these facilities, where thousands suffered physical and sexual abuse, as well as malnourishment and neglect.
Pope Francis was asked to come to Canada and apologize for the church’s role in running these institutions because it was one of the calls to action listed in the 2015 final report from the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada, which collected testimony from thousands of survivors.
Archibald says the intent of the papal visit is to focus on reconciliation and “it is ill-time to advance church fundraising efforts.”
She added it is “especially hurtful to ask First Nations survivors, to whom church reparations are already owed, to donate.”
Survivors have expressed disappointment at the Catholic Church’s failure to meet the fundraising goal to which it agreed under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
In 2006, 48 Catholic entities agreed to use their “best efforts” to raise $25 million as part of the compensation package to former students.
By 2015, a court ruled the Catholic corporations could be released from their remaining financial obligations, with the “best efforts” fundraising campaign having tallied less than $4 million.
The assembly of Canadian bishops, which says it was not one of the signing parties to the residential schools agreement, has since made a renewed financial commitment.
Last September, the bishops committed that $30 million would be put toward reconciliation-related initiatives over five years.
They said 73 dioceses would contribute to the goal, each pledging their own financial amount.
In the interest of transparency, the bishops established the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund to receive the money. It is registered as a public foundation and overseen by an Indigenous board.
To date, dioceses have put in $4.6 million.
The Canadian bishops have said the collection of donations for the papal visit is separate from fundraising efforts for the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund.
Papal visit organizers say no money from this fund will help pay for the tour.
Organizers are also planning to sell “modest quantities” of merchandise, like t-shirts, hats and bandanas, according to a spokeswoman, which will feature designs from a Winnipeg-based Metis graphic design artist.
“It is the papal visit’s intention to make the items available at a reasonable cost, and any small profits will be directed towards the costs of the papal visit.”