Sask. Catholic bishops resurrect fundraising campaign for residential school survivors
First Nations leaders want details, action on 2005 fundraising pledge of $25M before calling off boycott
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Catholic bishops in Saskatchewan are restarting fundraising efforts for residential school survivors and their families.
The announcement follows calls for a church boycott until action is taken to fulfil the $25-million fundraising pledge made by church bodies in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.
It also follows a CBC News investigation this week into the political and legal events that resulted in less than $4 million being raised.
"We have heard the strong request, from Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people in various quarters to initiate a new fundraising campaign to support survivors and engage more deeply in our own ongoing commitment and response to the Truth and Reconciliation process," states the joint letter from Saskatchewan's five bishops.
The letter states consultations have begun within the dioceses and they "look forward to responding with more details in the near future."
Officials from the Regina diocese, Saskatoon diocese or the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops couldn't be immediately reached for comment Sunday. It's unclear when the campaign will begin, what the goal amount will be or whether bishops in other provinces will follow.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron, Kinistin Saulteaux Nation Chief Felix Thomas, Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis and others had recently called for Catholics to boycott Sunday mass until the remaining $21 million was paid.
On Sunday, Thomas and Cameron said they're encouraged by the development, but will wait to see dates, financial targets and other details before they decide to continue or revoke the boycott calls.
"We have some good faith, but we had that previously and it didn't materialize," Thomas said.
Cameron said the Church must "follow through with their vows to raise $25 million as once committed for these survivors and their descendants."
They are also calling on the Catholic church to immediately release all records related to residential schools, and for Pope Francis to come to Canada to issue an apology, as outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.
New effort 'must be highly transparent'
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, director of the University of British Columbia's Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre reviewed the bishops' statement.
"This is interesting news coming from the Bishops in Saskatchewan. I commend them for their announcement," said Turpel-Lafond, a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, located approximately 100 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
She said she's eager to see details.
"In the past, such announcements were not followed through, even though they were ordered by the Court, and Canadians and First Nations were left completely in the dark. To be credible, this new effort must be highly transparent and monitored by someone outside the church," she said.
WATCH | Director of UBC's Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre addresses Catholic Church compensation deal:
Turpel-Lafond and others have said that remaining $21 million is a "starting point" to repairing the church's relationship with survivors. They say concrete action by the Catholic church is especially urgent following the discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at former residential school sites in Kamloops, B.C., the Cowessess First Nation in southern Saskatchewan and elsewhere.
They'd like to see fundraising campaigns for church buildings put on hold until the money for survivors is paid. They also favour diverting to the survivors' fund some of the tens of millions being raised for Regina's Holy Rosary Cathedral, Toronto's St. Michael's Basilica and other current building projects.
- 'Where is their soul?': Inside the failed push to make Catholic Church pay for its residential school abuses
Survivors and others have said that if Canadian Catholic churches won't pay, the Vatican should. They pointed to the Vatican Bank's estimated $6 billion in assets, and the church's global land holdings.
That includes speculative real estate investments of more than $500 million in one London office building alone, according to charges against 10 officials announced this weekend by Vatican prosecutors.
In the landmark 2005 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, the Catholic church first agreed to make a lump $29-million cash payment, and did pay most of that. It also agreed to provide $25 million of "in kind services." Officials say that was fulfilled, although the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to provide a list of those services to CBC News. Some critics also questioned why the perpetrator was allowed to provide in-kind services to the victims.
The third Catholic church promise was to give its "best efforts" at fundraising $25 million for survivors.
After a decade, more than $21 million of that fundraising commitment remained unpaid. All other churches involved in the settlement — United, Anglican and Presbyterian — paid their full shares without incident.
The church went to court and pointed to the "best efforts" clause, saying it had tried its best. On July 16, 2015, the judge agreed and absolved the church of its legal obligation.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected.
People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.