By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
On June 29, 2021, Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon wrote a letter to the Catholic community about the diocese’s past participation in fundraising under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) to clarify a recent news report comparing that disappointing effort to the successful fundraising to build a diocesan cathedral.
Although not required to join the 2006 IRSS agreement (since there was no residential school located in the diocese or operated by the diocese), the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon voluntarily signed on to the agreement to “be a part of this settlement process and to support its purposes,” noted Bishop Hagemoen. “I believe this was both because of the history and ongoing commitment throughout the diocese to build relationships with Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples,” he said.
Those who signed the IRSSA, including the diocese of Saskatoon, committed to a number of items, including contributing finances to services and programs to Indigenous survivors, families, and communities, as follows:
- Payment of $29 million in cash, which was directed to programs and services und the supervision of First Nations organizations, and to the “Returning to Spirit’ program. The diocese of Saskatoon’s share of this amount was $25,000.
- A “services-in-kind” commitment, whereby various community services and programs worth more than $25 million were organized by the various Catholic entities to be provided for Indigenous communities. The diocese of Saskatoon’s services-in-kind contribution to Restorative Ministry was valued at $43,000.
- A final fundraising appeal that was titled the “Moving Forward Together” campaign. This campaign was to also involve not only the 50 entities, but all dioceses in Canada, with a goal to raise $25 million. After two diocesan-wide collections were held, the diocese of Saskatoon contributed about $34,000 to this national effort, which ultimately fell short of the $25 million national goal.
“I understand that the leaders of various Catholic dioceses and groups put their efforts behind each component of the campaign. However, they were disappointed by the results,” said Hagemoen.
“If I was to summarize why the efforts yielded this kind of result, I would say that many of our parishioners, like many non-Indigenous Canadians, have been slow to understand the impact and the legacy of the residential school system, and this seems to be reflected in the response at the time,” Hagemoen said.
The bishop added that he would very much support revisiting this fund-raising appeal today. “The discoveries of grave sites at cemeteries near former residential schools has drawn an even greater awareness of the need for an appeal to support the healing of survivors and their families from the legacy of residential schools. I think Catholic members in our diocese and across Canada would respond with a heightened sense of solidarity and support,” he said.
Related Article: Bishop Mark Hagemoen message for Indigenous Peoples Day
Related Article: “The campaign that fell well short”
In the meantime, the diocese continues to support reconciliation and healing called for in the TRC final report, he said, listing several of the TRC Calls to Action that the Catholic Church and the diocese have been working on.
“However, there is much left to address in the Calls to Action,” the bishop admitted, citing in particular the call for Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologize to residential school survivors, their families and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that occured in residential schools.
Bishop Hagemoen said: “I again state my support for such a visit by the Holy Father to Canada, and I believe that an apology from Pope Francis would bring healing to many and would help to further the journey of reconciliation in our Church and our country.”
Bishop Hagemoen also reiterated his own apology: “I deeply regret and apologize that Catholics were part of this system which was designed to separate children from their families and communities and to assimilate them into a culture the featured a colonial attitude and approach. I deeply regret and apologize for the damage done to children at these schools, which for many included neglect and abuse, and I apologize for the deaths that happened at these schools, with children dying far away from mothers, fathers, grandparents and families, and I apologize to the families and the communities who have not been able to honour children’s burial sites.”
In conclusion, the Bishop of Saskatoon expressed his hopes going forward, saying: “While it is true that the discovery of graves is exposing the wounds and scars from the Indian Residential School legacy which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission revealed – but it is also raising greater awareness of the work, findings and the recommendations of the TRC, and of the great work still ahead for us and our diocese.”